THE WRITINGS OF
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
First Snow (page 122)
THE WRITINGS OF
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
EDITED BY BRADFORD TORREY
1850-SEPTEMBER 15, 1851
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
1be Biberitbe prese, Cambritge
COPYRIGHT 1906 BY HOUGHTON, MIPFLIN & CO.
All rights reserved
CHAPTER I. 1850 (Er. 32-33)
The Religion of the Hindoos Narrow Shoes The Town
of Bedford A Visit to Haverhill and the Dustin House -
Taste in Eating Sawing Buttonwood Logs The Insanity
of Heroes The Sand Cherry Life in a Small Meadow -
Turtle and Horned Pout Limestone The Energy of Our
Ancestors A New Bosphorus Sippio Brister's Grave-
stone Fences Driving Cows to Pasture Setting Fire to
the Woods The Incendiary The View from Goodman's
Hill in Sudbury A Burner of Brush Tending a Burning -
The Regularity of the Cars The Levels of Life A Pro-
posed Method of Fighting Wood-Fires The Yezidis In-
sects over the River Cows in a Pasture Horses Fighting
The Advantages of a Fire in the Woods Walking by Night
An Indian Squaw A Button from the Marquis of Ossoli's
Coat Bones on the Beach Fresh Water in Sand-Bars -
Rags and Meanness Tobacco Legislation An Ideal
Friend Conforming A Drunken Dutchman Legs as
Compasses Walks about Concord Meadow-Hay The
Old Marlborough Road Surface of Water The Money-
Digger- The Railroad Tall Ambrosia- The Ways of
Cows Flocks of Birds A Great Blue Heron The Elm
Uncle Charles Dunbar Lines on a Flower growing in the
Middle of the Road A Beautiful Heifer Water the Only
Drink On the River Music The Canadian Excur-
sion Living and Loving one's Life Canadian Houses
A Frog in the Milk Apostrophe to Diana Aground
at Patchogue The Relics of a Human Body on the Beach
Echoes Sawmills Begging Indians The Indian and
his Baskets Uncle Charles on the Dock at New York -
Nature in November The Approach of Winter Changes
made in Views from the cutting down of Woods Cats run
Wild The Growth of a Wood Canadian Greatcoats A
Root Fence Wild Apples An Old Bone A Miser and
his Surveyor The Remains of a Coal-Pit The Pickerel in
the Brooks Wildness The Attraction of the West Fright-
ened Cows The Passing of the Wild Apple Begging Gov-
ernments Old Maps The First Cold Day A New Kind
of Cranberry The Discoveries of the Unscientific Man -
The Sportiveness of Cattle Fair Haven Pond Friends and
Acquaintances Summer Days in Winter A Muskrat on
the Ice An Encampment of Indians at Concord Indian
Lore Indian Inventions Instinct in Women The Little
Irish Boy Puffballs An Ocean of Mist.
CHAPTER II. December, 1850 (ET. 33) 120
Moss Circulation in Plants The First Snow Blue-Curls
and Indigo-weed- Hands and Feet Sweet-Gale Prome-
thea Cocoons Frozen-thawed Apples Swamps in Winter
An Old-fashioned Snow-Storm A Shrike with Prey -
The Death of Friends Notes from Gordon Cumming -
CHAPTER III. January-April, 1851 (XET. 33) 134
A Visit to the Clinton Gingham-Mills Behavior The
Knowledge of an Unlearned Man Snow-covered Hills -
The Walker Errant Sauntering Freedom F. A. Mi-
chaux on Certain Trees Divine Communications The
Tameness of English Literature Quotations from Ovid -
Panoramas of the Rhine and the Mississippi The Fertility of
America Midwinter Sir John Mandeville on the Peoples
of the Earth A Society for the Diffusion of Useful Ignorance
-America the She Wolf To-day The Gregariousness of Man
The Edge of the Meadow Fleets of Ice-Flakes Water-
falls within Us The Ice-Flakes again Antiquity The
Health of the Farmer Eating The Fallibility of Friends
Moral Freedom Manners and Character Getting a
Living Actinism The Floating Crust of the Meadow -
Mythology and Geology Law and Lawlessness Carrying
off Sims Governor Boutwell Concord and Slavery The
Fugitive Slave Law Slavery and the Press Mahomet -
The Sentence of the Judge The Servility of Newspapers A
False Idea of Liberty Real and Actual Communications -
The Cat Love and Marriage.
CHAPTER IV. May, 1851 (TEr. 83) 186
Purity An Optical Illusion A Mountain Tarn Experi-
ments in Living- The Caliph Omar- The Harivansa -
The Taming of Beasts and Men The Study of Nature -
False Teeth or a False Conscience Taking Ether Moon-
light Notes from Michaux Vegetation and Human Life
The Development of the Mind The Mind and its Roots
Man our Contemporary- Names Wild Apples and their
Names An Inspiring Regret Medical Botany The
Designs of Providence True Sites for Houses The View
from the Wayland Hills An Organ-Grinder Materia
Media Tobacco More Names for Wild Apples.
CHAPTER V. June, 1851 (A~r. 33) 224
A Visit to Worcester -A Fallen Oak Angelica and Hem-
lock Transcendentalism- The Past and the Future -
Who boosts You? F. A. Michaux on the Ohio Various
Trees Our Garments and the Trees' A Moonlight Walk
Crossing Bridges at Night Air-Strata at Night A Book
of the Seasons South American Notes from Darwin's "Voy-
age of a Naturalist" Moonlight Breathing The Shim-
mering of the Moon's Reflections on the Rippled Surface of a
Pond The Bittern's Pumping Twilight Music Out-of-
Doors The Whip-poor-will's Moon Fireflies Darwin
again The Rapid Growth of Grass The Birch the Sur-
veyor's Tree Criticism Calmness The Wood Thrush's
Song The Ox's Badges of Servitude A Visit to a Me-
nagerie Old Country Methods of Farming The Hypse-
thral Character of the "Week" Dog and Wagon Haying
begun The Fragrance of the Fir.
CHAPTER VI. July, 1851 (rE. 33-34) 280
Travellers heard talking at Night Potato-Fields Hub-
bard's Bridge Moonlight Sam, the Jailer Intimations
of the Night Shadows of Trees Perez Blood's Telescope -
The Chastity of the Mind A Rye-Field A Visit to the Cam-
bridge Observatory Charles River A Gorgeous Sunset -
The Forms of Clouds A Moonlight Walk The Light of
the Moon Waterfalls within Us Another Moonlight Walk
Eating a Raw Turnip The Experience of Ecstasy The
Song Sparrow Berry-Picking Signs of the Season The
First of the Dog-Days Pitch Pine Woods The Ideal Self
The Life of the Spirit A Proposed Occupation The
River's Crop An Old Untravelled Road A Black Veil -
A Human Footprint The Gentleman An Immortal Mel-
ody Wild Pigeons Mirabeau as a Highwayman Am-
brosial Fog Maimed Geniuses The Charm of the French
Names in Canada Walking and Writing Swallows The
Moods of the Mind Drought A South Shore Excursion -
On the Hingham Boat Hull The Cohasset Shore Dan-
iel Webster's Farm A Mackerel Schooner Clark's Island
A Boat Swamped Digging Clams The Rut of the Sea
Seals in Plymouth Harbor Shells and Seaweeds The
Sailboat Webster's Nearest Neighbor A Hard Man -
CHAPTER VII. August, 1851 (tr. 34) 367
Return to Concord An Ill-managed Menagerie A Sum-
mer Evening A Musical Performer The Moon and the
Clouds The Nearness of the Wild Travelling Profit-
able Interest- The Spread of Inventions- The Inspiring
Melodies An Unheeded Warning Sounds of a Summer
Night The Moon's War with the Clouds First Signs of
Morning The Dawn Thistle and Bee Cool Weather
Delight in Nature The Snake in the Stomach The Hay-
ing Dogs and Cows British Soldiers in Canada Lib-
erty in Canada Canadian Fortifications Prehensile Intel-
lects The Poet and his Moods Knowing one's Subject -
The Revolution of the Seasons Rattlesnake-Plantain -The
Creak of the Crickets Botanical Terms The Cardinal-'
Flower The Canadian Feudal System- Government The
Flowering of the Vervain The Conspicuous Flowers of the
Season The Visit to Canada De Quincey's Style Char-
ity and Almshouses Men observed as Animals The Price
Farm Road Snake and Toad An August Wind Cut-
ting Turf Burning Brush The Telegraph The For-
tress of Quebec A Faithful Flower Potato Balls The
Seal of Evening Solitude in Concord- The Names of
CHAPTER VIII. September, 1851 (Air. 34) 440
Disease the Rule of Existence Finding one's Faculties -
Telegraphs Moose-lipped Words Cato's De Re Rustica
The Horse and Man Health and Disease The Tele-
graph Harp Walking in England A Walk to Boon's Pond
in Stow The Farmer and His Oxen Tempe and Arcadia
Footpaths for Poets Writing on Many Subjects -
Dammed Streams- The Dog of the Woods- J. J. G.
Wilkinson Fastidiousness A Lake by Moonlight A
Formalist The Fullness of Life Creatures of Institutions
Moments of Inspiration Gladness A September Evening
Singing heard at Night Moonlight on the River Fair
Haven by Moonlight Northern Lights Soaring Hawks -
The Grass and the Year The Sky at Night A Factory-Bell
Sunrise The Color of the Poke The Stone-mason's
Craft Moral Effort Benvenuto Cellini An Endymion
Sleep The Mountains in the Horizon The Telegraph
Harp Perambulating the Bounds A Pigeon-Place An
Elusive Scent The Cross-leaved Polygala.
FIRST SNOW (page 122)
FAIR HAVEN POND FROM
TOWN BROOK, PLYMOUTH
THE JOURNAL OF
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
1850 (ET. 32-33)1
THE Hindoos are more serenely and thoughtfully
religious than the Hebrews. They have perhaps a purer,
more independent and impersonal knowledge of God.
Their religious books describe the first inquisitive and
contemplative access to God; the Hebrew bible a con-
scientious return, a grosser and more personal repent-
ance. Repentance is not a free and fair highway to
God. A wise man will dispense with repentance. It is
shocking and passionate. God prefers that you approach
him thoughtful, not penitent, though you are the chief
of sinners. It is only by forgetting yourself that you
draw near to him.
The calmness and gentleness with which the Hindoo
philosophers approach and discourse on forbidden
themes is admirable.
1 [A new book is begun here, but the first date is that of May 12,
1850, on p. 7 (p. 8 of the original). The first entries may or may
not belong to this year,]
What extracts from the Vedas I have read fall on me
like the light of a higher and purer luminary, which
describes a loftier course through a purer stratum,-
free from particulars, simple, universal. It rises on me
like the full moon after the stars have come out, wading
through some far summer stratum of the sky.
The Vedant teaches how, "by forsaking religious
rites," the votary may obtain purification of mind."
One wise sentence is worth the state of Massachusetts
many times over.
The Vedas contain a sensible account of God.
The religion and philosophy of the Hebrews are those
of a wilder and ruder tribe, wanting the civility and
intellectual refinements and subtlety of the Hindoos.
Man flows at once to God as soon as the channel of
purity, physical, intellectual, and moral, is open.
With the Hindoos virtue is an intellectual exercise,
not a social and practical one. It is a knowing, not a
I do not prefer one religion or philosophy to another.
I have no sympathy with the bigotry and ignorance
which make transient and partial and puerile distinc-
tions between one man's faith or form of faith and
another's,-as Christian and heathen. I pray to be
delivered from narrowness, partiality, exaggeration,
bigotry. To the philosopher all sects, all nations, are
alike. I like Brahma, Hari, Buddha, the Great Spirit,
as well as God.
[Part of leaf missing here.]
A page with as true and inevitable and deep a meaning
as a hillside, a book which Nature shall own as her own
flower, her own leaves; with whose leaves her own shall
rustle in sympathy imperishable and russet; which shall
push out with the skunk-cabbage in the spring. I am not
offended by the odor of the skunk in passing by sacred
places.1 I am invigorated rather. It is a reminiscence of
immortality borne on the gale. O thou partial world,when
.wilt thou know God ? I would as soon transplant this
vegetable to Polynesia or to heaven with me as the violet.
Shoes are commonly too narrow. If you should take
off a gentleman's shoes, you would find that his foot
was wider than his shoe. Think of his wearing such an
engine! walking in it many miles year after year! A
shoe which presses against the sides of the foot is to be
condemned. To compress the foot like the Chinese is as
bad as to compress the head like the Flatheads, for the
head and the foot are one body. The narrow feet, they
greet each other on the two sides of the Pacific. A
sensible man will not follow fashion in this respect, but
reason. Better moccasins, or sandals, or even bare feet,
than a tight shoe. A wise man will wear a shoe wide
and large enough, shaped somewhat like the foot, and
tied with a leather string, and so go his way in peace,
letting his foot fall at every step.
When your shoe chafes your feet, put in a mullein leaf.
When I ask for a garment of a particular form, my
tailoress tells me gravely, "They do not make them so
S[See Excursions, p. 228; Riv. 280.]
now," and I find it difficult to get made what I want,
simply because she cannot believe that I mean what I
say; it surpasses her credulity. Properly speaking, my
style is as fashionable as theirs. "They do not make
them so now," as if she quoted the Fates! I am for a
moment absorbed in thought, thinking, wondering who
they are, where they live. It is some Oak Hall, O call,
O. K:, all correct establishment which she knows but I
do not. Oliver Cromwell. I emphasize and in imagina-
tion italicize each word separately of that sentence to
come at the meaning of it.1
Or you may walk into the foreign land of Bedford,
where not even yet, after four or five, or even seven or
eight, miles, does the sky shut down, but the airy and
crystal dome of heaven arches high over all, when you
did not suspect that there was so much daylight under
its crystal dome, and from the hill eastward perchance
see the small town of Bedford standing stately on the
crest of a hill like some city of Belgrade with one hun-
dred and fifty thousand inhabitants. I wonder if Mr.
Fitch lives there among them.
How many noble men and women must have their
abode there! So it seems, I trust that so it is, but
I did not go into Bedford that time. But alas! I have
been into a village before now, and there was not a man
of a large soul in it. In what respect was it better than a
village of prairie-dogs.2 I mean to hint no reproach even
by implica- [part of leaf torn off].
[Walden, p. 27; Riv. 41, 42.]
2 [See Walden, p. 185; Riv. 262.]
1850] THE DUSTIN HOUSE 7
Sunday, May 12, 1850, visited the site of the Dustin
house in the northwest part of Haverhill, now but a slight
indentation in a corn-field, three or four feet deep, with
an occasional brick and cellar-stone turned up in plow-
ing. The owner, Dick Kimball, made much of the corn
grown in this hole, some ears of which were sent to
Philadelphia. The apple tree which is said to have stood
north from the house at a considerable distance is gone.
A brick house occupied by a descendant is visible from
the spot, and there are old cellar-holes in the neigh-
borhood, probably the sites of some of the other eight
houses which were burned on that day. It is a question
with some which is the site of the true Dustin house.
Also visited the same day an ancient garrison-house
now occupied by Fred. Ayer, who said it was built one
hundred and fifty or one hundred and sixty years ago
by one Emerson, and that several oxen were killed by
lightning while it was building. There was also a pear
tree nearly as old as the house. It was built of larger
and thicker and harder brick than are used nowadays,
and on the whole looked more durable and still likely to
stand a hundred years. The hard burnt blue-black ends
of some of the bricks were so arranged as to checker
the outside. He said it was considered the handsomest
house in Haverhill when it was built, and people used
to come up from town some two miles to see it. He
thought that they were the original doors which we saw.
There were but few windows, and most of them were
about two feet and a half long and a foot or more wide,
only to fire out of. The oven originally projected out-
side. There were two large fireplaces. I walked into
one, by stooping slightly, and looked up at the sky.
Ayer said jokingly that some said they were so made
to shoot wild geese as they flew over. The chains and
hooks were suspended from a wooden bar high in the
chimney. The timbers were of immense size.
Fourteen vessels in or to be in the port of Haverhill,
laden with coal, lumber, lime, wood, and so forth. Boys
go [to] the wharf with their fourpences to buy a bundle
of laths to make a hen-house; none elsewhere to be had.
Saw two or three other garrison-houses. Mrs. Dustin
was an Emerson, one of the family for whom I surveyed.
Measured a buttonwood tree in Haverhill, one of
twenty and more set out about 1739 on the banks of
the Merrimack. It was thirteen and eight twelfths
feet in circumference at three and a half feet from the
Jewett's steam mill is profitable, because the planing
machine alone, while that is running, makes shavings
and waste enough to feed the engine, to say nothing of
the sawdust from the sawmill; and the engine had not
required the least repair for several years. Perhaps, as
there is not so much sawing and planing to be done in
England, they therefore may not find steam so cheap as
A single gentle rain in the spring makes the grass look
many shades greener.
It is wisest to live without any definite and recognized
object from day to day, any particular object, for
the world is round, and we are not to live on a tangent or
TASTE IN EATING
a radius to the sphere. As an old poet says, "though
man proposeth, God disposeth all."
Our thoughts are wont to run in muddy or dusty ruts.
I too revive as does the grass after rain. We are never
so flourishing, our day is never so fair, but that the sun
may come out a little brighter through mists and we
yearn to live a better life. What have we to boast of?
We are made the very sewers, the cloac.e, of nature.
If the hunter has a taste for mud turtles and musk-
rats and skunks and other such savage titbits, the fine
lady indulges a taste for some form of potted cheese,
or jelly made of a calf's foot, or anchovies from over the
water, and they are even. He goes to the mill-pond, she
to her preserve pot. I wonder how he, I wonder how
I, can live this slimy, beastly kind of life, eating and
The fresh foliage of the woods in May, when the leaves
are about as big as a mouse's ear, putting out like taller
grasses and herbs.
In all my rambles I have seen no landscape which can
make me forget Fair Haven. I still sit on its Cliff in a
new spring day, and look over the awakening woods and
the river, and hear the new birds sing, with the same
delight as ever. It is as sweet a mystery to me as ever,
what this world is. Fair Haven Lake in the south, with
its pine-covered island and its meadows, the hickories
putting out fresh young yellowish leaves, and the oaks
light-grayish ones, while the oven-bird thrums his
sawyer-like strain, and the chewink rustles through the
I [Walden, p. 241; Riv. 840.]
dry leaves or repeats his jingle on a tree-top, and the
wood thrush, the genius of the wood, whistles for the
first time his clear and thrilling strain, it sounds as it
did the first time I heard it. The sight of these budding
woods intoxicates me, -this diet drink.
The strong-colored pine, the grass of trees, in the midst
of which other trees are but as weeds or flowers, a
In the row of buttonwood trees on the banks of the
Merrimack in Haverhill, I saw that several had been cut
down, probably because of their unsightly appearance,
they all suffering from the prevalent disease which has
attacked the buttonwood of late years, and one large one
still resting on its stump where it had fallen. It seemed
like a waste of timber or of fuel, but when I inquired
about it, they answered that the millers did not like to
saw it. Like other ornamental trees which have stood
by the roadside for a hundred years, the inhabitants
have been accustomed to fasten their horses to them,
and have driven many spikes into them for this purpose.
One man, having carried some buttonwood logs to mill,
the miller agreed to saw them if he would make good the
injury which might be done to his saw. The other agreed
to it, but almost at the first clip they ran on to a spike and
broke the saw, and the owner of the logs cried, "Stop!"
he would have no more sawed. They are difficult to split,
beside, and make poor timber at best, being very liable
The "itinerary distance" between two points, a con-
Fair Haven Pond from the Cliffs
1850] THE INSANITY OF HEROES 11
Humboldt says, "It is still undetermined where life
is most abundant: whether on the earth or in the
fathomless depths of the ocean."
It was a mirage, what in Sanscrit, according to
Humboldt, is called "the thirst of the gazelle."
Nothing memorable was ever accomplished in a
prosaic mood of mind. The heroes and discoverers
have found true more than was previously believed,
only when they were expecting and dreaming of some-
thing more than their contemporaries dreamed of, -
when they were in a frame of mind prepared in some
measure for the truth.
Referred to the world's standard, the hero, the dis-
coverer, is insane, its greatest men are all insane. At
first the world does not respect its great men. Some
rude and simple nations go to the other extreme and
reverence all kinds of insanity. Humboldt says, speak-
ing of Columbus approaching the New World: "The
grateful coolness of the evening air, the ethereal purity
of the starry firmament, the balmy fragrance of flowers,
wafted to him by the land breeze, all led him to sup-
pose (as we are told by Herrera, in the Decades (5)),
that he was approaching the garden of Eden, the sacred
abode of our first parents. The Orinoco seemed to him
one of the four rivers which, according to the venerable
tradition of the ancient world, flowed from Paradise,
to water and divide the surface of the earth, newly
adorned with plants."
Expeditions for the discovery of El Dorado, and also
of the Fountain of Youth, led to real, though perhaps
not compensatory, discoveries.'
I have heard my brother playing on his flute at even-
ing half a mile off through the houses of the village,
every note with perfect distinctness. It seemed a more
beautiful communication with me than the sending up
of a rocket would have been. So, if I mistake not, the
sound of blasting rocks has been heard from down
the river as far as Lowell, some twenty miles by its
course, where they were making a deep cut for the
The sand cherry (Prunus depressa Pursh., Cerasus
pumila Mx.) grew about my door, and near the end of
May enlivened my yard with its umbels arranged cylin-
drically about its short branches. In the fall, weighed
down with the weight of its large and handsome cher-
ries, it fell over in wreath-like rays on every side. I
tasted them out of compliment to nature, but I never
learned to love them.2
If the long-continued rains cause the seeds to rot in
the ground and destroy the potatoes in the low lands,
they are good for the grass on the uplands, though the
farmers say it is not so sweet.3
As I walked, I was intoxicated with the slight spicy
odor of the hickory buds and the bruised bark of the
black birch, and, in the fall, the pennyroyal.
1 [Cape Cod, p. 121; Riv. 143,144.] 2 [Walden, p. 126; Riv. 178.]
3 [Walden, p. 145; Riv. 206.]
1850] LIFE IN A SMALL MEADOW
Many a time I have expected to find a woodchuck,
or rabbit, or a gray squirrel, when it was the ground-
robin rustling the leaves.
I have been surprised to discover the amount and
the various kinds of life which a single shallow swamp
will sustain. On the south side of the pond, not more
than a quarter of a mile from it, is a small meadow of
ten or a dozen acres in the woods, considerably lower
than Walden, and which by some is thought to be fed by
the former by a subterranean outlet, which is very
likely, for its shores are quite springy and its supply of
water is abundant and unfailing, indeed tradition
says that a sawmill once stood over its outlet, though
its whole extent, including its sources, is not more than
I have mentioned, a meadow through which the
Fitchburg Railroad passes by a very high causeway,
which required many a carload of sand, where the
laborers for a long time seemed to make no progress,
for the sand settled so much in the night that by morn-
ing they were where they were the day before, and
finally the weight of the sand forced upward the ad-
jacent crust of the meadow with the trees on it many .
feet, and cracked it for some rods around. It is a
wet and springy place throughout the summer, with
a ditch-like channel, and in one part water stands the
year round, with cat-o'-nine-tails and tiissocks and
muskrats' cabins rising above it, where good cran-
berries may be raked if you are careful to anticipate
the frost which visits this cool hollow unexpectedly
early. Well, as I was saying, I heard a splashing in the
shallow and muddy water and stood awhile to observe
the cause of it. Again and again I heard and saw the
commotion, but could not guess the cause of it, what
kind of life had its residence in that insignificant pool.
We sat down on the hillside. Ere long a muskrat came
swimming by as if attracted by the same disturbance,
and then another and another, till three had passed, and
I began to suspect that they were at the bottom of it.
Still ever and anon I observed the same commotion in
the waters over the same spot, and at length I observed
the snout of some creature slyly raised above the surface
after each commotion, as if to see if it were observed
by foes, and then but a few rods distant I saw another
snout above the water and began to divine the cause of
the disturbance. Putting off my shoes and stockings,
I crept stealthily down the hill and waded out slowly
and noiselessly about a rod from the firm land, keep-
ing behind the tussocks, till I stood behind the tussock
near which I had observed the splashing. Then, sud-
denly stooping over it, I saw through the shallow but
muddy water that there was a mud turtle there, and
thrusting in my hand at once caught him by the claw,
and, quicker than I can tell it, heaved him high and
dry ashore; and there came out with him a large pout
just dead and partly devoured, which he held in his
jaws. It was the pout in his flurry and the turtle in
his struggle to hold him fast which had created the
commotion. There he had lain, probably buried in the
mud at the bottom up to his eyes, till the pout came
sailing over, and then this musky lagune had put forth
in the direction of his ventral fins, expanding suddenly
under the influence of a more than vernal heat, there
1850] TURTLE AND HORNED POUT
are sermons in stones, aye and mud turtles at the bot-
toms of the pools, in the direction of his ventral fins,
his tender white belly, where he kept no eye; and the
minister squeaked his last.' Oh, what an eye was there,
my countrymen! buried in mud up to the lids, meditat-
ing on what? sleepless at the bottom of the pool, at
the top of the bottom, directed heavenward, in no dan-
ger from motes. Pouts expect their foes not from be-
low. Suddenly a mud volcano swallowed him up, seized
his midriff; he fell into those relentless jaws from which
there is no escape, which relax not their hold even in
death.2 There the pout might calculate on remaining
until nine days after the head was cut off. Sculled
through Heywood's shallow meadow, not thinking of
foes, looking through the water up into the sky. I saw
his [the turtle's] brother sunning and airing his broad
back like a ship bottom up which had been scuttled,
--foundered at sea. I had no idea that there was so
much going on in Heywood's meadow.
The pickerel commonly lie perfectly still at night,
like sticks, in very shallow water near the shore near
a brook's mouth. I have seen a large one with a deep
white wound from a spear, cutting him half in two,
unhealed and unhealable, fast asleep, and forked him
into my boat. I have struck a pickerel sound asleep
and knew that I cut him almost in two, and the next
moment heard him go ashore several rods off; for
being thus awakened in their dreams they shoot off
with one impulse, intending only to abandon those
parts, without considering exactly to what places they
[See Journal, vol. i, p. 475.] 2 [Channing, p. 298.]
shall go. One night a small pickerel, which the boat
had probably struck in his sleep, leaped into the boat
and so was secured without a wound.
The chub is a soft fish and tastes like boiled brown
I was as interested in the discovery of limestone as
if it had been gold, and wondered that I had never
thought of it before. Now all things seemed to radiate
round limestone, and I saw how the farmers lived near
to, or far from, a locality of limestone. I detected it
sometimes in walls, and surmised from what parts it
was probably carted; or when I looked down into an
old deserted well, I detected it in the wall, and found
where the first settlers had quarried it extensively. I
read a new page in the history of these parts in the
old limestone quarries and kilns where the old settlers
found the materials of their houses; and I considered
that, sinceit was found so profitable even at Thomaston
to burn lime with coal dust, perchance these quarries
might be worked again.'
When the rocks were covered with snow, I even
uncovered them with my hands, that I might observe
their composition and strata, and thought myself lucky
when the sun had laid one bare for me; but [now] that
they are all uncovered I pass by without noticing them.
There is a time for everything.
We are never prepared to believe that our ancestors
lifted large stones or built thick walls. I find that I must
have supposed that they built their bank walls of such
as a single man could handle. For since we have put
I [See Journal, vol. v, June 10, 1853.]
1850] ENERGY OF OUR ANCESTORS
their lives behind us we can think of no sufficient motive
for such exertion. How can their works be so visible
and permanent and themselves so transient? When I
see a stone which it must have taken many yoke of
oxen to move, lying in a bank wall which was built two
hundred years ago, I am curiously surprised, because
it suggests an energy and force of which we have no
memorials. Where are the traces of the corresponding
moral and intellectual energy? I am not prepared to
believe that a man lived here so long ago who could ele-
vate into a wall and properly aline a rock of great size
and fix it securely, -such an Archimedes. I walk over
the old corn-fields, it is true, where the grassy corn-hills
still appear in the woods, but there are no such traces
of them there. Again, we are wont to think that our an-
cestors were all stalwart men, because only their most
enduring works have come down to us. I think that the
man who lifted so large a rock in the course of his
ordinary work should have had a still larger for his
I noticed a singular instance of ventriloquism to-day
in a male chewink singing on the top of a young oak.
It was difficult to believe that the last part of his strain,
the concluding jingle, did not proceed from a different
quarter, a woodside many rods off. Hip-you, he-he-he-
he. It was long before I was satisfied that the last part
was not the answer of his mate given in exact time. I
endeavored to get between the two; indeed, I seemed
to be almost between them already.
I have not seen Walden so high for many years; it is
within four feet of the pond-hole in Hubbard's woods.
The river is higher than it has been at this season
for many years.
When the far mountains are invisible, the near ones
look the higher.
The oldest nature is elastic. I just felt myself raised
upon the swell of the eternal ocean, which came rolling
this way to land.
When my eye ranges over some thirty miles of this
globe's surface, an eminence green and waving, with
sky and mountains to bound it,- I am richer than
The variously colored blossoms of the shrub oaks
now, in May, hanging gracefully like ear-drops, or the
similar blossoms of the large oaks.
I have noticed the effect of a flag set up on a hill in
the country. It tames the landscape, subdues it to itself.
The hill looks as if it were a military post. Our green,
wild country landscape is gathered under the folds of
A lively appearance is imparted to the landscape as
seen from Nawshawtuct, by the flood on the meadows,
- by the alternation of land and water, of green and of
light colors. The frequent causeways, and the hedge-
rows (?) jutting into the meadows, and the islands,
have an appearance full of light and life.
To-day, May 31st, a red and white cow, being un-
easy, broke out of the steam-mill pasture and crossed
the bridge and broke into Elijah Wood's grounds. When
he endeavored to drive her out by the bars, she boldly
took to the water, wading first through the meadows
1850] A NEW BOSPHORUS 19
full of ditches, and swam across the river, about forty
rods wide at this time, and landed in her own pasture
again. She was a buffalo crossing her Mississippi. This
exploit conferred some dignity on the herd in my eyes,
already dignified, and reflectedly on the river, which I
looked on as a kind of Bosphorus.
I love to see the domestic animals reassert their na-
tive rights, any evidence that they have not lost their
original wild habits and vigor.'
There is a sweet wild world which lies along the
strain of the wood thrush the rich intervales which
border the stream of its song more thoroughly genial
to my nature than any other.2
The blossoms of the tough and vivacious shrub oak
are very handsome.
I visited a retired, now almost unused, graveyard in
Lincoln to-day, where five British soldiers lie buried
who fell on the 19th April, '75. Edmund Wheeler,
grandfather of William, who lived in the old house now
pulled down near the present, went over the next day
and carted them to this ground. A few years ago one
Felch, a phrenologist, by leave of the selectmen dug up
and took away two skulls. The skeletons were very
large, probably those of grenadiers. William Wheeler,
who was present, told me this. He said that he had
heard old Mr. Child, who lived opposite, say that when
one soldier was shot he leaped right up his full length
out of the ranks and fell dead; and he, William Wheeler,
saw a bullet-hole through and through one of the skulls.
1 [Excursions, p. 234; Riv. 287.] 2 [Excursions, p. 225; Riv. 276.]
Close by stood a stone with this inscription: -
In memory of
a man of Colour
Nov 1. 1820
But that is not telling us that he lived.'
There was one Newell, a tailor, his neighbor, who
became a Universalist minister. Breed put on his sign:-
Tailoring and barbering done with speed
By John C Newell & John C Breed.2
The water was over the turnpike below Master
Cheney's when I returned (May 31st, 1850).
[A third of a page torn out here.]
that these fences, to a considerable extent, will be found
to mark natural divisions, especially if the land is not
very minutely divided, mowing (upland and meadow)
pasture, woodland, and the different kinds of tillage.
There will be found in the farmer's motive for setting a
fence here or there some conformity to natural limits.
These artificial divisions no doubt have the effect of
increasing the area and variety to the traveller. These
various fields taken together appear more extensive than
a single prairie of the same size would. If the divisions
corresponded [A third of a page torn out here.]
1 [Walden, p. 284; Riv. 399.]
2 [This in regard to Breed and Newell is written in a fine hand at
the top of the page, and probably belonged with something on the
part torn out.]
1850] DRIVING COWS TO PASTURE
The year has many seasons more than are recognized
in the almanac. There is that time about the first of
June, the beginning of summer, when the buttercups
blossom in the now luxuriant grass and I am first
reminded of mowing and of the dairy. Every one will
have observed different epochs. There is the time when
they begin to drive cows to pasture, about the 20th
of May, observed by the farmer, but a little arbi-
trary year by year. Cows spend their winters in barns
and cow-yards, their summers in pastures. In summer,
therefore, they may low with emphasis, "To-morrow to
fresh woods and pastures new." I sometimes see. a
neighbor or two united with their boys and hired men
to drive their cattle to some far-off country pasture, fifty
or sixty miles distant in New Hampshire, early in the
morning, with their sticks and dogs. It is a memorable
time with the farmers' boys, and frequently their first
journey from home. The herdsman in some mountain
pasture is expecting them. And then in the fall, when
they go up to drive them back, they speculate as to
whether Janet or Brindle will know them. I heard such
a boy exclaim on such an occasion, when the calf of the
spring returned a heifer, as he stroked her side, "She
knows me, father; she knows me." Driven up to be the
cattle on a thousand hills.
I once set fire to the woods. Having set out, one April
day, to go to the sources of Concord River in a boat
with a single companion, meaning to camp on the bank
at night or seek a lodging in some neighboring country
inn or farmhouse, we took fishing tackle with us that we
might fitly procure our food from the stream, Indian-
like. At the shoemaker's near the river, we obtained
a match, which we had forgotten. Though it was thus
early in the spring, the river was low, for there had not
been much rain, and we succeeded in catching a mess of
fish sufficient for our dinner before we had left the town,
and by the shores of Fair Haven Pond we proceeded
to cook them. The earth was uncommonly dry, and our
fire, kindled far from the woods in a sunny recess in
the hillside on the east of the pond, suddenly caught
the dry grass of the previous year which grew about the
stump on which it was kindled. We sprang to extinguish
it at'first with our hands and feet, and then we fought
it with a board obtained from the boat, but in a few
minutes it was beyond our reach; being on the side of a
hill, it spread rapidly upward, through the long, dry,
wiry grass interspersed with bushes.
"Well, where will this end ?" asked my companion.
I saw that it might be bounded by Well Meadow Brook
on one'side, but would, perchance, go to the village side
of the brook. "It will go to town," I answered. While
my companion took the boat back down the river, I set
out through the woods to inform the owners and to raise
the town. The fire had already spread a dozen rods on
every side and went leaping and crackling wildly and
irreclaimably toward the wood. That way went the
flames with wild delight, and we felt that we had no
control over the demonic creature to which we had
given birth. We had kindled many fires in the woods
before, burning a clear space in the grass, without ever
kindling such a fire as this.
As I ran toward the town through the woods, I could
A FIRE IN THE WOODS
see the smoke over the woods behind me marking the
spot and the progress of the flames. The first farmer
whom I met driving a team, after leaving the woods,
inquired the cause of the smoke. I told him. "Well,"
said he, "it is none of my stuff," and drove along. The
next I met was the owner in his field, with whom I re-
turned at once to the woods, running all the way. I had
already run two miles. When at length we got into the
neighborhood of the flames, we met a carpenter who
had been hewing timber, an infirm man who had been
driven off by the fire, fleeing with his axe. The farmer
returned to hasten more assistance. I, who was spent
with running, remained. What could I do alone against
a front of flame half a mile wide?
I walked slowly through the wood to Fair Haven Cliff,
climbed to the highest rock, and sat down upon it to
observe the progress of the flames, which were rapidly
approaching me, now about a mile distant from the spot
where the fire was kindled. Presently I heard the sound
of the distant bell giving the alarm, and I knew that the
town was on its way to the scene. Hitherto I had felt
like a guilty person, nothing but shame and regret.
But now I settled the matter with myself shortly. I said
to myself: "Who are these men who are said to be the
owners of these woods, and how am I related to them ?
I have set fire to the forest, but I have done no wrong
therein, and now it is as if the lightning had done it.
These flames are but consuming their natural food."
(It has never troubled me from that day to this more than
if the lightning had done it. The trivial fishing was all
that disturbed me and disturbs me still.) So shortly I
settled it with myself and stood to watch the approaching
flames.1 It was a glorious spectacle, and I was the only
one there to enjoy it. The fire now reached the base of
the cliff and then rushed up its sides. The squirrels ran
before it in blind haste, and three pigeons dashed into
the midst of the smoke. The flames flashed up the pines
to their tops, as if they were powder.
When I found I was about to be surrounded by the
fire, I retreated and joined the forces now arriving from
the town. It took us several hours to surround the
flames with our hoes and shovels and by back fires sub-
due them. In the midst of all I saw the farmer whom
I first met, who had turned indifferently away saying
it was none of his stuff, striving earnestly to save his
corded wood, his stuff, which the fire had already seized
and which it after all consumed.
It burned over a hundred acres or more and destroyed
much young wood. When I returned home late in the
day, with others of my townsmen, I could not help
noticing that the crowd who were so ready to condemn
the individual who had kindled the fire did not sym-
pathize with the owners of the wood, but were in fact
highly elate and as it were thankful for the opportunity
which had afforded them so much sport; and it was only
half a dozen owners, so called, though not all of them,
who looked sour or grieved, and I felt that I had a deeper
interest in the woods, knew them better and should feel
their loss more, than any or all of them. The farmer
whom I had first conducted to the woods was obliged
to ask me the shortest way back, through his own lot.
I [See p. 40.]
Why, then, should the half-dozen owners [and] the indi-
viduals who set the fire alone feel sorrow for the loss of
the wood, while the rest of the town have their spirits
raised? Some of the owners, however, bore their loss
like men, but other some declared behind my back that
I was a damned rascal;" and a flibbertigibbet or two,
who crowed like the old cock, shouted some reminis-
cences of "burnt woods" from safe recesses for some
years after. I have had nothing to say to any of them.
The locomotive engine has since burned over nearly all
the same ground and more, and in some measure blotted
out the memory of the previous fire. For a long time
after I had learned this lesson I marvelled that while
matches and tinder were contemporaries the world was
not consumed; why the houses that have hearths were
not burned before another day; if the flames were not
as hungry now as when I waked them. I at once ceased
to regard the owners and my own fault, if fault there
was any in the matter, and attended to the phenonie-
non before me, determined to make the most of it. To
be sure, I felt a little ashamed when I reflected on what
a trivial occasion this had happened, that at the time
I was no better employed than my townsmen.
That night I watched the fire, where some stumps
still flamed at midnight in the midst of the blackened
waste, wandering through the woods by myself; and
far in the night I threaded my way to the spot where
the fire had taken, and discovered the now broiled fish,
which had been dressed, scattered over the burnt
This has been a cool day, though the first of summer.
The prospect of the meadows from Lee's Hill was very
fine. I observe that the shadows of the trees are very
distinct and heavy in such a day, falling on the fresh
grass. They are as obvious as the trees themselves by
mid-afternoon. Commonly we do not make much
account of the distinct shadows of objects in the land-
What is bare and unsightly is covered by the water
now. The verdure seems to spring directly from its
bosom; there are no stems nor roots. The meadows are
so many mirrors reflecting the light, toward sunset
I visited this afternoon (June 3d) Goodman's Hill in
Sudbury, going through Lincoln over Sherman's Bridge
and Round Hill, and returning through the Corner. It
probably affords the best view of Concord River mead-
ows of any hill. The horizon is very extensive as it is,
and if the top were cleared so that you could get the
western view, it would be one of the most extensive seen
from any hill in the county. The most imposing horizons
are those which are seen from tops of hills rising out of
a river valley. The prospect even from a low hill has
Something majestic in it in such a case. The landscape
is a vast amphitheatre rising to its rim in the horizon.
There is a good view of Lincoln lying high up in among
the hills. You see that it is the highest town hereabouts,
and hence its fruit. The river at this,time looks as large
as the Hudson. I think that a river-valley town is much
the handsomest and largest-featured, like Concord
and Lancaster, for instance, natural centres. Upon the
A BURNER OF BRUSH
hills of Bolton, again, the height of land between the
Concord and Nashua, I have seen how the peach
flourishes. Nobscot, too, is quite imposing as seen from
the west side of Goodman's Hill. On the western side
of a continuation of this hill is Wadsworth's battle-
Returning, I saw in Sudbury twenty-five nests of the
new (cliff?) swallow under the eaves of a barn. They
seemed particularly social and loquacious neighbors,
though their voices are rather squeaking. Their nests,
built side by side, looked somewhat like large hornets'
nests, enough so to prove a sort of connection. Their
activity, sociability, and chattiness make them fit pen-
sioners and neighbors of man summer companions -
for the barn-yard.
The last of May and the first of June the farmers are
everywhere planting their corn and beans and potatoes.
To-day, June 4th, I have been tending a burning in
the woods. Ray was there. It is a pleasant fact that you
will know no man long, however low in the social scale,
however poor, miserable, intemperate, and worthless he
may appear to be, a mere burden to society, but you will
find at last that there is something which he understands
and can do better than any other. I was pleased to hear
that one man had sent Ray as the one wh6 had had the
most experience in setting fires of any man in Lincoln.
He had experience and skill as a burner of brush.
1 [Where Captain Samuel Wadsworth fell in a battle with the
Indians, April 18, 1676.]
You must burn against the wind always, and burn
slowly. When the fire breaks over the hoed line, a little
system and perseverance will accomplish more toward
quelling it than any man would believe. It fortunately
happens that the experience acquired is oftentimes
worth more than the wages. When a fire breaks out in
the woods, and a man fights it too near and on the side,
in the heat of the moment, without the systematic cooper-
ation of others, he is disposed to think it a desperate
case, and that this relentless fiend will run through the
forest till it is glutted with food; but let the company
rest from their labors a moment, and then proceed more
deliberately and systematically, giving the fire a wider
berth, and the company will be astonished to find how
soon and easily they will subdue it. The woods them-
selves furnish one of the best weapons with which to
contend with the fires that destroy them, a pitch pine
bough. It is the best instrument to thrash it with. There
are few men who do not love better to give advice than
to give assistance.
However large the fire, let a few men go to work
deliberately but perseveringly to rake away the leaves
and hoe off the surface of the ground at a convenient
distance from the fire, while others follow with pine
boughs to thrash it with when it reaches the line, and
they will finally get round it and subdue it, and will be
astonished at their own success.
A man who is about to burn his field in the midst
of woods should rake off the leaves and twigs for the
breadth of a rod at least, making no large heaps near the
outside, and then plow around it several furrows and
TENDING A BURNING
break them up with hoes, and set his fire early in the
morning, before the wind rises.
As I was fighting the fire to-day, in the midst of the
roaring and crackling, for the fire seems to snort like
a wild horse, I heard from time to time the dying
strain, the last sigh, the fine, clear, shrill scream of
agony, as it were, of the trees breathing their last, prob-
ably the heated air or the steam escaping from some
chink. At first I thought it was some bird, or a dying
squirrel's note of anguish, or steam escaping from the
tree. You sometimes hear it on a small scale in the log
on the hearth. When a field is burned over, the squir-
rels probably go into the ground. How foreign is the
yellow pine to the green woods--and what business
has it here ?
The fire stopped within a few inches of a partridge's
nest to-day, June 4th, whom we took off in our hands
and found thirteen creamy-colored eggs. I started up a
woodcock when I went to a rill to drink, at the western-
most angle of R. W. E.'s wood-lot.
To-night, June 5th, after a hot day, I hear the first
peculiar summer breathing of the frogs.
When all is calm, a small whirlwind will suddenly
lift up the blazing leaves and let them fall beyond
the line, and set all the woods in a blaze in a moment.
Or some slight almost invisible cinder, seed of fire, will
be wafted from the burnt district on to the dry turf
which covers the surface and fills the crevices of many
rocks, and there it will catch as in tinder, and smoke
and smoulder, perchance, for half an hour, heating
several square yards of ground where yet no fire is
visible, until it spreads to the leaves and the wind fans
it into a blaze.
Men go to a fire for entertainment. When I see how
eagerly men will run to a fire, whether in warm or in
cold weather, by day or by night, dragging an engine
at their heels, I am astonished to perceive how good a
purpose the love of excitement is made to serve. What
other force, pray, what offered pay, what disinterested
neighborliness could ever effect so much? No, these
are boys who are to be dealt with, and these are the
motives that prevail. There is no old man or woman
dropping into the grave but covets excitement.
Yesterday, when I walked to Goodman's Hill, it
seemed to me that the atmosphere was never so full of
fragrance and spicy odors. There is a great variety in
the fragrance of the apple blossoms as well as their tints.
Some are quite spicy. The air seemed filled with the
odor of ripe strawberries, though it is quite too early for
them. The earth was not only fragrant but sweet and
spicy to the smell, reminding us of Arabian gales and
what mariners tell of the spice islands. The first of
June, when the lady's-slipper and the wild pink have
come out in sunny places on the hillsides, then the
summer is begun according to the clock of the sea-
Here it is the 8th of June, and the grass is growing
apace. In the front yards of the village they are already
beginning to cut it. The fields look luxuriant and ver-
durous, but, as the weather is warmer, the atmosphere
is not so clear. In distant woods the partridge sits on
1850] REGULARITY OF THE CARS
her eggs, and at evening the frogs begin to dream and
boys begin to bathe in the river and ponds.
Cultivate the habit of early rising. It is unwise to
keep the head long on a level with the feet.
The cars come and go with such regularity and pre-
cision, and the whistle and rumble are heard so far, that
town clocks and family clocks are already half dis-
pensed with, and it is easy to foresee that one extensive
well-conducted and orderly institution like a railroad
will keep time and order for a whole country. The
starting and arrivals of the cars are the epochs in a
Not till June can the grass be said to be waving in
the fields. When the frogs dream, and the grass waves,
and the buttercups toss their heads, and the heat dis-
poses to bathe in the ponds and streams, then is summer
June 9th, 1850, Walden is still rising, though the
rains have ceased and the river has fallen very much.
I see the pollen of the pitch pine now beginning to cover
the surface of the pond. Most of the pines at the north-
northwest end have none, and on some there is only
one pollen-bearing flower.
I saw a striped snake which the fire in the woods had
killed, stiffened and partially blackened by the flames,
with its body partly coiled up and raised from the ground,
[Walden, p. 130; Riv. 184, 185.1
and its head still erect as if ready to dart out its tongue
and strike its foe. No creature can exhibit more venom
than a snake, even when it is not venomous, strictly
The fire ascended the oak trees very swiftly by the
moss which fringed them.
It has a singular effect on us when we hear the geolo-
gist apply his terms to Judea, speak of "limestone"
and "blocks of trap and conglomerate, boulders of sand-
stone and quartz" there. Or think of a chemical analy-
sis of the water of the Dead Sea!
The pitch and white pines are two years or more ma-
turing their seed.
Certain rites are practiced by the Smrities (among
the Hindoos) at the digging of wells.
In early times the Brahmans, though they were the
legislators of India, possessed no executive power and
lived in poverty; yet they were for the most part inde-
pendent and respected.
Galbraith's Math. Tables, Edinburgh, 1834. For
descriptions of instruments he refers to Jones's edition
of Adam's Geom. and Graphical Essays, Biot's Trait6
d'Astronomie Physique, Base du Systeme M4trique,
Woodhouse's, Vince's, and Pearson's Treatises of As-
tronomy. For problems connected with trigonometrical
surveying, to the third volume of Hutton's Course of
Math. by Dr. O. Gregory, Baron Zach's work on the
Attraction of Mountains, the Base du Systeme de
M6trique Decimal, and Puissant's Geodesie.
Olive or red seems the fittest color for a man, a deni-
THE LEVELS OF LIFE
zen of the woods. The pale white man! I do not wonder
that the African pitied him.1
The white pine cones are now two inches long, curved
sickle-like from the topmost branches, reminding you of
the tropical trees which bear their fruit at their heads.2
The life in us is like the water in the river; it may
rise this year higher than ever it was known to before
and flood the uplands even this may be the eventful
year and drown out all our muskrats.3
There [are] as many strata at different levels of life
as there are leaves in a book. Most men probably have
lived in two or three. When on the higher levels we can
remember the lower levels, but when on the lower we
cannot remember the higher.
My imagination, my love and reverence and admira-
tion, my sense of the miraculous, is not so excited by
any event as by the remembrance of my youth. Men
talk about Bible miracles because there is no miracle
in their lives. Cease to gnaw that crust. There is ripe
fruit over your head.
Woe to him who wants a companion, for he is unfit
to be the companion even of himself.
We inspire friendship in men when we have con-
tracted friendship with the gods.
When we cease to sympathize with and to be per-
sonally related to men, and begin to be universally re-
lated, then we are capable of inspiring others with the
sentiment of love for us.
S[Excursions, p. 226; Riv. 277.]
2 I find that they are last year's. The white pine has not blossomed.
3 [Walden, p. 366; Riv. 513.]
We hug the earth. How rarely we mount! How
rarely we climb a tree! We might get a little higher,
methinks. That pine would make us dizzy. You can
see the mountains from it as you never did before.'
Shall not a man have his spring as well as the plants ?
The halo around the shadow is visible both morning
After this and some other fires in the woods which I
helped to put out, a more effectual system by which to
quell them occurred to me. When the bell rings, hun-
dreds will run to a fire in the woods without carrying
any implement, and then waste much time after they
get there either in doing nothing or what is worse than
nothing, having come mainly out of curiosity, it being
as interesting to see it burn as to put it out. I thought
that it would be well if forty or fifty men in every
country town should enroll themselves into a company
for this purpose and elect suitable officers. The town
should provide a sufficient number of rakes, hoes, and
shovels, which it should be the duty of certain of the com-
pany to convey to [the] woods in a wagon, together with
the drum, on the first alarm, people being unwilling to
carry their own tools for fear they will be lost. When
the captain or one of the numerous vice-captains ar-
rives, having inspected the fire and taken his measures,
let him cause the roll to be called, however the men may
be engaged, and just take a turn or two with his men to
form them into sections and see where they are. Then
1 [Excursions, pp. 244, 245; Riv. 300.]
S[Walden, pp. 224, 225; Riv. 816.]
he can appoint and equip his rake-men and his hoe-
men and his bough-men, and drop them at the proper
places, always retaining the drummer and a scout; and
when he has learned through his scout that the fire has
broken out in a new place, he, by beat of drum, can
take up one or two men of each class as many as
can be spared and repair to the scene of danger.
SOne of my friends suggests instead of the drum some
delicious music, adding that then he would come. It
might be well, to refresh the men when wearied with
work, and cheer them on their return. Music is the
So, far in the East, among the Yezidis, or Worship-
pers of the Devil, so called, and the Chald.eans, and so
forth, you may hear these remarkable disputations on
Any reverence, even for a material thing, proceeds
from an elevation of character. Layard, speaking of the
reverence for the sun exhibited by the Yezidis, or Wor-
shippers of the Devil, says: "They are accustomed to
kiss the object on which its first beams fall; and I
have frequently, when travelling in their company at sun-
rise, observed them perform this ceremony. For fire,
as symbolic, they have nearly the same reverence; they
never spit into it, but frequently pass their hands through
the flame, kiss them, and rub them over their right eye-
brow, or sometimes over the whole face."
Who taught the oven-bird to conceal her nest ? It is
I [Cape Cod, p. 54; Riv. 62.]
on the ground, yet out of sight. What cunning there is
in nature! No man could have arranged it more art-
fully for the purpose of concealment. Only the escape
of the bird betrays it.
I observe to-night, June 15th, the air over the river
by the Leaning Hemlocks filled with myriads of newly
fledged insects drifting and falling as it were like snow-
flakes from the maples, only not so white. Now they
drift up the stream, now down, while the river below is
dimpled with the fishes rising to swallow the innumer-
able insects which have fallen [into] it and are struggling
with it. I saw how He fed his fish. They, swimming in
the dark nether atmosphere of the river, rose lazily to
its surface to swallow such swimmers of the light upper
atmosphere as sank to its bottom.'
I picked up to-day the lower jaw of a hog, with white
and sound teeth and tusks, which reminded me that
there was an animal health and vigor distinct from the
spiritual health. This animal succeeded by other means
than temperance and purity.2
There are thirty-eight lighthouses in Massachusetts.
The light on the Highlands of Neversink is visible the
greatest distance, viz. thirty miles. There are two there,
one revolving, one not.
The fantastic open light crosses which the limbs of
the larch make, seen against the sky, of the sky-blue
color its foliage.
In a swamp where the trees stand up to their knees,
two or three feet deep, in the fine bushes as in a moss
1 Vide Kirby and Spence, vol. i. 3 [Walden, p. 242; Riv. 841.]
COWS IN A PASTURE
The arbor-vitae fans, rich, heavy, elaborate, like
June 20. I can see from my window three or four
cows in a pasture on the side of Fair Haven Hill, a mile
and a half distant. There is but one tree in the pasture,
and they are all collected and now reposing in its shade,
which, as it is early though sultry, is extended a good
way along the ground. It makes a pretty landscape.
That must have been an epoch in the history of the cow
when they discovered to stand in the shadow of a tree.
I wonder if they are wise enough to recline on the north
side of it, that they may not be disturbed so soon. It
shows the importance of leaving trees for shade in the
pastures as well as for beauty. There is a long black
streak, and in it the cows are collected. How much
more they will need this shelter at noon! It is a pleasant
life they lead in the summer, roaming in well-watered
pastures, grazing, and chewing the cud in the shade, -
quite a philosophic life and favorable for contempla-
tion, not like their pent-up winter life in close and foul
barns. If only they could say as on the prairies, "To-
morrow to fresh woods and pastures new."
Cattle and horses, however, retain many of their wild
habits or instincts wonderfully. The seeds of instinct
are preserved under their thick hides, like seeds in the
bowels of the earth, an indefinite period.' I have heard
of a horse which his master could not catch in his
pasture when the first snowflakes were falling, who per-
sisted in wintering out. As he persisted in keeping out
[Excursions, p. 234; Riv. 287.]
of his reach, his master finally left him. When the snow
had covered the ground three or four inches deep, the
horse pawed it away to come at the grass, just as the
wild horses of Michigan do, who are turned loose by their
Indian masters, and so he picked up a scanty subsist-
ence. By the next day he had had enough of free life and
pined for his stable, and so suffered himself to be caught.
A blacksmith, my neighbor, heard a great clattering
noise the other day behind his shop, and on going out
found that his mare and his neighbor the pumpmaker's
were fighting. They would run at one another, then
turn round suddenly and let their heels fly. The rat-
tling of their hoofs one against the other was the noise
he heard. They repeated this several times with inter-
vals of grazing, until one prevailed. The next day they
bore the marks of some bruises, some places where the
skin was rucked up, and some swellings.
And then for my afternoon walks I have a garden,
larger than any artificial garden that I have read of
and far more attractive to me,- mile after mile of
embowered walks, such as no nobleman's grounds can
boast, with animals running free and wild therein as
from the first, varied with land and water prospect,
and, above all, so retired that it is extremely rare that I
meet a single wanderer in its mazes. No gardener is
seen therein, no gates nor [sic]. You may wander away
to solitary bowers and brooks and hills.
The ripple marks on the sandy bottom of Flint's
Pond, where the rushes grow, feel hard to the feet of
1850] THE ADVANTAGES OF A FIRE
the wader, though the sand is really soft,--made firm
perchance by the weight of the water.'
The rushes over the water are white with the exuvive, the
skeletons, of insects,--like blossoms,--which have de-
posited their eggs on their tops. The skeletons looked like
those of shad-flies, though some living insects were not.
I have seen crimson-colored eggs painting the leaves
of the black birch quite beautifully.
And now the ascending sun has contracted the
shadow of the solitary tree, and they are compelled to
seek the neighboring wood for shelter.
June 21. The flowers of the white pine are now in
their prime, but I see none of their pollen on the pond.
This piece of rural pantomime, this bucolic, is enacted
before me every day. Far over the hills on that fair
hillside, I look into the pastoral age.
But these are only the disadvantages of a fire. It is
without doubt an advantage on the whole. It sweeps
and ventilates the forest floor, and makes it clear and
clean. It is nature's besom. By destroying the punier
underwood it gives prominence to the larger and sturdier
trees, and makes a wood in which you can go and come.
I have often remarked with how much more comfort
and pleasure I could walk in woods through which a fire
had run the previous year. It will clean the forest floor
like a broom perfectly smooth and clear,--no twigs
S[Walden, p. 216; Riv. 805.]
left to crackle underfoot, the dead and rotten wood re-
moved, and thus in the course of two or three years
new huckleberry fields are created for the town, for
birds and men.
When the lightning burns the forest its Director makes
no apology to man, and I was but His agent. Perhaps
we owe to this accident partly some of the noblest
natural parks. It is inspiriting to walk amid the fresh
green sprouts of grass and shrubbery pushing upward
through the charred surface with more vigorous growth.
Wherever a man goes men will pursue and paw him
with their dirty institutions.1
Sometimes an arrowhead is found with the mouldering
shaft still attached. (Vide Charles Hubbard.) A little
boy from Compton, R. I., told me that his father found
an arrowhead sticking in a dead tree and nearly buried
in it. Where is the hand that drew that bow ? The arrow
shot by the Indian is still found occasionally, sticking
in the trees of our forest.
It is astonishing how much information is to be got
out of very unpromising witnesses. A wise man will
avail himself of the observation of all. Every boy and
simpleton has been an observer in some field, so
many more senses they are, differently located. Will
inquire of eyes what they have seen, of ears what they
have heard, of hands what they have done, of feet where
they have been.
July 16. I have not yet been able to collect half a
1 [Walden, p. 190; Riv. 268.]
WALKING BY NIGHT
thimbleful of the pollen of the pine on Walden, abundant
as it was last summer.
There is in our yard a little pitch pine four or five
years old and not much more than a foot high, with small
cones on it but no male flowers; and yet I do not know
of another pitch pine tree within half a mile.
Many men walk by day; few walk by night. It is a
very different season. Instead of the sun, there are
the moon and stars; instead of the wood thrush, there
is the whip-poor-will; instead of butterflies, fireflies,
winged sparks of fire! who would have believed it?
What kind of life and cool deliberation dwells in a spark
of fire in dewy abodes ? Every man carries fire in his
eye, or in his blood, or in his brain. Instead of sing-
ing birds, the croaking of frogs and the intense dream
of crickets. The potatoes stand up straight, the corn
grows, the bushes loom, and, in a moonlight night, the
shadows of rocks and trees and bushes and hills are more
conspicuous than the objects themselves. The slightest
inequalities in the ground are revealed by the shadows;
what the feet find comparatively smooth appears rough
and diversified to the eye. The smallest recesses in the
rocks are dim and cavernous; the ferns in the wood
appear to be of tropical size; the pools seen through the
leaves become as full of light as the sky. "The light of
day takes refuge in their bosom," as the Purana says of
the ocean. The woods are heavy and dark. Nature
slumbers. The rocks retain the warmth of the sun which
they have absorbed all night.'
I [Excursions, pp. 326-328; Riv. 401-403.]
The names of those who bought these fields of the red
men, the wild men of the woods, are Buttrick, Davis, Bar-
rett, Bulkley, etc., etc. (Vide History.) Here and there
still you will find a man with Indian blood in his veins,
an eccentric farmer descended from an Indian chief; or
you will see a solitary pure-blooded Indian, looking as
wild as ever among the pines, one of the last of the Massa-
chusetts tribes, stepping into a railroad car with his gun.
Still here and there an Indian squaw with her dog,
her only companion, lives in some lone house, insulted
by school-children, making baskets and picking berries
her employment. You will meet her on the highway,,
with few children or none, with melancholy face, history,
destiny; stepping after her race; who had stayed to tuck
them up in their long sleep. For whom berries conde-
scend to grow. I have not seen one on the Musketaquid
for many a year, and some who came up in their canoes
and camped on its banks a dozen years ago had to ask
me where it came from. A lone Indian woman without
children, accompanied by her dog, wearing the shroud
of her race, performing the last offices for her departed
race. Not yet absorbed into the elements again; a
daughter of the soil; one of the nobility of the land. The
white man an imported weed, burdock and mullein,
which displace the ground-nut.
As a proof that oysters do not move, I have been
told by a L6ng Island oysterman that they are found
in large clusters surrounding the parent oyster in the
position in which they must have grown, the young being
several years old.
1850] THE MARQUIS OF OSSOLI
I find the actual to be far less real to me than the
imagined. Why this singular prominence and impor-
tance is given to the former, I do not know. In propor-
tion as that which possesses my thoughts is removed
from the actual, it impresses me. I have never met with
anything so truly visionary and accidental as some
actual events. They have affected me less than my
dreams. Whatever actually happens to a man is wonder-
fully trivial and insignificant, even to death itself, I
imagine. He complains of the fates who drown him,
that they do not touch him. They do not deal directly
with him. I have in my pocket a button which I ripped
off the coat of the Marquis of Ossoli 1 on the seashore
the other day. Held up,- it intercepts the light and casts
a shadow, an actual button so called, and yet all
the life it is connected with is less substantial to me than
my faintest dreams. This stream of events which we
consent to call actual, and that other mightier stream
which alone carries us with it, what makes the dif-
ference ? On the one ourbodies float, and we have sym-
pathy with it through them; on the other, our spirits.
We are ever dying to one world and being born into
another, and possibly no man knows whether he is at
any time dead in the sense in which he affirms that
phenomenon of another, or not. Our thoughts are the
epochs of our life: all else is but as a journal of the
winds that blew while we were here.2
I [In July, 1850, Thoreau went to Fire Island with other friends
of Margaret Fuller to search for her remains. See Cape Cod, pp. 107,
108; Riv. 126, 127. See also next page.]
2 [Part of draft of a letter to H. G. O. Blake, dated Aug. 9, 1850.
Other parts follow. Familiar Letters.]
I do not think much of the actual. It is something
which we have long since done with. It is a sort of vomit
in which the unclean love to wallow.
There was nothing at all remarkable about them.
They were simply some bones lying on the beach. They
would not detain a walker there more than so much sea-
weed. I should think that the fates would not take the
trouble to show me any bones again, I so slightly appre-
ciate the favor.1
Do a little more of that work which you have some-
time confessed to be good, which you feel that society and
your justest judge rightly demands of you. Do what you
reprove yourself for not doing. Know that you are
neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with yourself without
reason. Let me say to you and to myself in one breath,
Cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in
your soil. Regard not your past failures nor successes.
All the past is equally a failure and a success; it is a
success in as much as it offers you the present opportu-
nity. Have you not a pretty good thinking faculty, worth
more than the rarest gold watch? Can you not pass a
judgment on something? Does not the stream still rise
to its fountain-head in you? Go to the devil and come
back again. Dispose of evil. Get punished once for all.
Die, if you can. Depart. Exchange your salvation for
a glass of water. If you know of any risk to run, run it.
If you don't know of any, enjoy confidence. Do not
trouble yourself to be religious; you will never get a
thank-you for it. If you can drive a nail and have any
nails to drive, drive them. If you have any experiments
I [See Cape Cod, p. 108; Riv. 127. See also p. 80 of this volume.]
1850] FRESH WATER IN SAND-BARS 45
you would like to try, try them; now's your chance. Do
not entertain doubts, if they are not agreeable to you.
Send them to the tavern. Do not eat unless you are
hungry; there's no need of it. Do not read the news-
papers. Improve every opportunity to be melancholy.
Be as melancholy as you can be, and note the result.
Rejoice with fate. As for health, consider yourself well,
and mind your business. Who knows but you are dead
already? Do not stop to be scared yet; there are more
terrible things to come, and ever to come. Men die of
fright and live of confidence. Be not simply obedient
like the vegetables; set up your own Ebenezer. Of
man's disobedience and the fruit," etc. Do not engage
to find things as you think they are. Do what nobody
can do for you. Omit to do everything else.'
According to Lieutenant Davis, the forms, extent, and
distribution of sand-bars and banks are principally deter-
mined by tides, not by winds and waves.2 On sand-bars
recently elevated above the level of the ocean, fresh
water is obtained by digging a foot or two. It is very
common for wells near the shore to rise and fall with the
tide. It is an interesting fact that the low sand-bars in
the midst of the ocean, even those which are laid bare
only at low tide, are reservoirs of fresh water at which
the thirsty mariner can supply himself. Perchance, like
huge sponges, they hold the rain and dew which falls on
them, and which, by capillary attraction, is prevented
from mingling with the surrounding brine.3
' [Familiar Letters, Aug. 9,1850.] 2 [Cape Cod, p. 155; Riv. 185.]
S [Cape Cod, p. 225; Riv. 271.]
It is not easy to make our lives respectable to our-
selves by any course of activity. We have repeatedly to
withdraw ourselves into our shells of thought like the
tortoise, somewhat helplessly; and yet there is even
more than philosophy in that. I do not love to entertain
doubts and questions.
I am sure that my acquaintances mistake me. I am
not the man they take me for. On a little nearer view
they would find me out. They ask my advice on high
matters, but they do not even know how poorly on't I
am for hats and shoes. I have hardly a shift. Just
as shabby as I am in my outward apparel, aye, and
more lamentably shabby, for nakedness is not so bad
a condition after all, am I in my inward apparel. If
I should turn myself inside out, my rags and meanness
would appear. I am something to him that made me,
undoubtedly, but not much to any other that he has
made.1 All I can say is that I live and breathe and have
What is peculiar in the life of a man consists not in his
obedience, but his opposition, to his instincts. In one
direction or another he strives to live a supernatural
Would it not be worth the while to discover nature in
Milton ? 2 Be native to the universe. I, too, love Con-
cord best, but I am glad when I discover, in oceans and
wildernesses far away, the materials out of which a
million Concords can be made, indeed, unless I dis-
cover them, I am lost myself, that there too I am at
i [Familiar Letters, Aug. 9, 1850.]
2 [Blake was at the time living in Milton, Mass.]
1850]- TOBACCO LEGISLATION
home. Nature is as far from me as God, and sometimes
I have thought to go West after her. Though the city is
no more attractive to me than ever, yet I see less differ-
ence between a city and some dismallest swamp than
formerly. It is a swamp too dismal and dreary, however,
for me. I would as lief find a few owls and frogs and
mosquitoes less. I prefer even a more cultivated place,
free from miasma and crocodiles, and I will take my
From time to time I overlook the promised land, but I
do not feel that I am travelling toward it. The moment
I begin to look there, men and institutions get out of
the way that I may see. I see nothing permanent in
the society around me, and am not quite committed to
any of its ways.
The heaven-born Numa, or Lycurgus, or Solon,
gravely makes laws to regulate the exportation of to-
bacco. Will a divine legislator legislate for slaves, or to
regulate the exportation of tobacco ? What shall a State
say for itself at the last day, in'which this is a principal
What have grave, not to say divine, legislators -
Numas, Lycurguses, Solons to do with the exporta-
tion or the importation of tobacco. There was a man
appealed to me the other day, Can you give me a chaw
of tobacco ?" I legislated for him. Suppose you were
to submit the question to any son of. God, in what State
would you get it again ? 2
I [Familiar Letters, Aug. 9, 1850.]
2 [Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, p. 478; Misc., Riv. 282, 283.]
Do not waste any reverence on my attitude. I man-
age to sit up where I have dropped. Except as you
reverence the evil one, or rather the evil myriad.
As for missing friends, fortunate perhaps is he who
has any to miss, whose place a thought will not supply.
I have an ideal friend in whose place actual persons
sometimes stand for a season. The last I may often
miss, but the first I recover when I am myself again.
What if we do miss one another? have we not agreed
upon a rendezvous? While each travels his own way
through the wood with serene and inexpressible joy,
though it be on his hands and knees over the rocks and
fallen trees, he cannot but be on the right way; there
is no wrong way to him. I have found myself as well
off when I have fallen into a quagmire, as in an arm-
chair in the most hospitable house. The prospect was
pretty much the same. Without anxiety let us wander
on, admiring whatever beauty the woods exhibit.1
Do you know on what bushes a little peace, faith,
and contentment grow? Go a-berrying early and late
after them.2 Miss our friends! It is not easy to get rid
of them. We shall miss our bodies directly.
As to conforming outwardly, and living your own
life inwardly, I have not a very high opinion of that
course. Do not let your right hand know what your left
hand does in that line of business. I have no doubt it
will prove a failure.3
1 [Familiar Letters, Aug. 9, 1850.]
2 [Channing, p. 78.]
3 [Familiar'Letters, Aug. 9, 1850.]
1850] A DRUNKEN DUTCHMAN 49
The wind through the blind just now sounded like
the baying of a distant hound, somewhat plaintive
The railroad cuts make cliffs for swallows.
Getting into Patchogue late one night in an oyster-
boat, there was a drunken Dutchman aboard whose
wit reminded me of Shakespeare. When we came to
leave the beach, our boat was aground, and we were
detained three hours waiting for the tide. In the mean-
while two of the fishermen took'an extra dram at the
beach house. Then they stretched themselves on the
seaweed by the shore in the sun to sleep off the effects
of their debauch. One was an inconceivably broad-
faced young Dutchman, but oh! of such a peculiar
breadth and heavy look, I should not know whether
to call it more ridiculous or sublime. You would say
that he had humbled himself so much that he was
beginning to be exalted. An indescribable mynheerish
stupidity. I was less disgusted by their filthiness and
vulgarity, because I was compelled to look on them as
animals, as swine in their sty. For the whole voyage
they lay flat on their backs on the bottom of the boat,
in the bilge-water and wet with each bailing, half in-
sensible and wallowing in their vomit. But ever and
anon, when aroused by the rude kicks or curses of the
skipper, the Dutchman, who never lost his wit nor
equanimity, though snoring and rolling in the vomit
produced by his debauch, blurted forth some happy
repartee like an illuminated swine. It was the earthiest,
slimiest wit I ever heard. The countenance was one of
a million. It was unmistakable Dutch. In the midst
of a million faces of other races it could not be mistaken.
It told of Amsterdam. I kept racking my brains .to
conceive how he could have been born in America, how
lonely he must feel, what he did for fellowship. When
we were groping up the narrow creek of Patchogue at
ten o'clock at night, keeping our boat off, now from
this bank, now from that, with a pole, the two inebriates
roused themselves betimes. For in spite of their low
estate they seemed to have all their wits as much about
them as ever, aye, and all the self-respect they ever had.
And the Dutchman gave wise directions to the steerer,
which were not heeded. Suddenly rousing himself up
where the sharpest-eyed might be bewildered in the
darkness, he leaned over the side of the boat and pointed
straight down into the creek, averring that that identi-
cal hole was a first-rate place for eels. And again he
roused himself at the right time and declared what
luck he had once had with his pots (not his cups) in
another place, which we were floating over in the dark.
At last he suddenly stepped on to another boat which
was moored to the shore, with a divine ease and sure-
ness, saying, "Well, good-night, take care of yourselves,
I can't be with you any longer." He was one of the few
remarkable men whom I have met. I have been im-
pressed by one or two men in their cups. There was
really a divinity stirred within them, so that in their
case I have reverenced the drunken, as savages the in-
sane, man. So stupid that he could never be intoxicated.
When I said, "You have had a hard time of it to-day,"
he answered with indescribable good humor out of the
LEGS AS COMPASSES
very midst of his debauch, with watery eyes, "Well, it
does n't happen every day." It was happening then.'
He had taken me aboard on his back, the boat lying a
rod from the shore, before I knew his condition. In the
darkness our skipper steered with a pole on the bottom,
for an oysterman knows the bottom of his bay as well
as the shores, and can tell where he is by the soundings.2
There was a glorious lurid sunset to-night, accom-
panied with many sombre clouds, and when I looked
into the west with my head turned, the grass had the
same fresh green, and the distant herbage and foliage
in the horizon the same bark blue, and the clouds and
sky the same bright colors beautifully mingled and dis-
solving into one another, that I have seen in pictures of
tropical landscapes and skies. Pale saffron skies with
faint fishes of rosy clouds dissolving in them. A blood-
stained sky. I regretted that I had an impatient com-
panion. What shall we make of the fact that you have
only to stand on your head a moment to be enchanted
with the beauty of the landscape ?
I met with a man on the beach who told me that
when he wanted to jump over a brook he held up one .
leg a certain height, and then, if a line from his eye
through his toe touched the opposite bank, he knew
that he could jump it. I asked him how he knew when
he held his leg at the right angle, and he said he knew
the hitch very well. An Irishman told me that he held
up one leg and if he could bring his toe in a range with
his eye and the opposite bank he knew that he could
1 [Channing, pp. 36, 37.] 2 [See pp. 78, 79.]
jump it. Why, I told him, I can blot out a star with my
toe, but I would not engage to jump the distance. It
then appeared that he knew when he had got his leg at
the right height by a certain hitch there was in it. I
suggested that he should connect his two ankles.with a
I knew a clergyman who, when any person died, was
wont to speak of that portion of mankind who survived
as living monuments of God's mercy. A negative kind
of life to live!
I can easily walk ten, fifteen, twenty, any number of
miles, commencing at my own door, without going by
any house, without crossing a road except where the fox
and the mink do. Concord is the oldest inland town
in New England, perhaps in the States, and the walker
is peculiarly favored here. There are square miles in
my vicinity which have no inhabitant. First along by
the river, and then the brook, and then the meadow and
the woodside. Such solitude! From a hundred hills
I can see civilization and abodes of man afar. These
farmers and their works are scarcely more obvious than
As I was going by with a creaking wheelbarrow, one
of my neighbors, who heard the music, ran out with his
grease-pot and brush and greased the wheels.
1 [An example of Thoreau's practice work, the same story told
in two forms. For its final form see Cape God, p. 88; Riv. 103, 104.]
2 [Excursions, p. 212; Riv. 260.]
That is a peculiar season when about the middle of
August the farmers are getting their meadow-hay. If
you sail up the river, you will see them in all meadows,
raking hay and loading it on to carts, great towering [ ?]
teams, under which the oxen stand like beetles, chewing
the cud, waiting for men to put the meadow on. With
the heaviest load they dash aside to crop some more
savory grass, the half-broken steers.
There was reason enough for the first settler's select-
ing the elm out of all the trees of the forest with which
to ornament his villages. It is beautiful alike by sun-
light and moonlight, and the most beautiful specimens
are not the largest. I have seen some only twenty-five
or thirty years old, more graceful and healthy, I think,
than any others. It is almost become a villageous tree,
- like martins and bluebirds.
The high blueberry has the wildest flavor of any of
the huckleberry tribe. It is a little mithridatic. It is
like eating a poisonous berry which your nature makes
harmless. I derive the same pleasure as if I were eat-
ing dog-berries, nightshade, and wild parsnip with
Man and his affairs, Church and State and school,
trade and commerce and agriculture, Politics, -
for that is the word for them all here to-day, I am
pleased to see how little space it occupies in the land-
scape. It is but a narrow field. That still narrower
highway yonder leads to it. I sometimes direct the
traveller [Two pages missing.]
S[Excursions, pp. 212, 213; Riv. 260, 261.]
And once again,
When I went a-maying,
And once or twice more
I had seen thee before,
For there grow the mayflower
And the mountain cranberry
And the screech owl strepens.
O whither dost thou go ?
Which way dost thou flow ?
Thou art the way.
Thou art a road
Which Dante never trode.
Not many they be
Who enter therein,.
Only the guests of the
There was a cross-eyed fellow used to help me sur-
vey, he was my stake-driver, and all he said was,
at every stake he drove, "There, I should n't like to
undertake to pull that up with my teeth."
It sticks in my crop. That's a good phrase. Many
things stick there.
The man of wild habits,
Partridges and rabbits,
Who has no cares
Only to set snares,
1 [Excursions, p. 215; Riv. 263.]
1850] THE OLD MARLBOROUGH ROAD 55
Who liv'st all alone,
Close to the bone,
And where life is sweetest
Where they once dug for money,
But never found "ony."
To market fares
With early apples and pears.
When the spring stirs my blood
With the instinct to travel,
I can get enough gravel
On the Old Marlborough Road.
If you'll leave your abode
With your fancy unfurled,
You may go round the world
By the Old Marlborough Road.
Nobody repairs it,
For nobody wears it.
It is a living way,
As the Christians say.
What is it, what is it,
But a direction out there
And the bare possibility
Of going somewhere ?
Great guide-boards of stone,
But travellers none.
It is worth going there to see
Where you might be.
They're a great endeavor
To be something for ever.
They are a monument to somebody,
To some selectman
Who thought of the plan.
Did the thing,
I am still wondering.
Cenotaphs of the towns
Named on their crowns;
Huge as Stonehenge;
Set up how or when,
By what selectmen?
Gourgas or Lee,
Clark or Darby ?
Blank tablets of stone,
Where a traveller might groan,
And in one sentence
Grave all that is known;
Which another might read,
In his extreme need.
I know two or three
Sentences, i. e.,
That might there be.
Literature that might stand
All over the land.
Which a man might remember
Till after December,
And read again in the spring,
After the thawing.1
1[Excursions, pp. 214-216; Riv. 263, 264.]
1850] THE SURFACE OF WATER
Old meeting-house bell,
I love thy music well.
It peals through the air,
Sweetly full and fair,
As in the early times,
When I listened to its chimes.
I walk over the hills, to compare great things with
small, as through a gallery of pictures, ever and anon
looking through a gap in the wood, as through the frame
of a picture, to a more distant wood or hillside, painted
with several more coats of air. It is a cheap but pleasant
effect. To a landscape in picture, glassed with air.
What is a horizon without mountains ?
A field of water betrays the spirit that is in the air. It
has new life and motion. It is intermediate between
land and sky. On land, only the grass and trees wave,
but the water itself is rippled by the wind. I see the
breeze dash across it in streaks and flakes of light. It is
somewhat singular that we should look down on the
surface of water. We shall look down on the surface of
air next, and mark where a still subtler spirit sweeps
Without inlet it lies,
Without outlet it flows.
From and to the skies
It comes and it goes.
I am its source,
And my life is its course.
1 [Walden, pp. 209, 210; Riv. 296.]
I am its stony shore
And the breeze that passes o'er.1
[Two thirds of a page missing.]
All that the money-digger had ever found was a pine-
tree shilling, once as he was dunging out. He was paid
much more for dunging out, but he valued more the
money which he found. The boy thinks most of the
cent he found, not the cent he earned; for it suggests
to him that he may find a great deal more, but he knows
that he can't earn much, and perhaps did not deserve
[Two pages missing.]
Among the worst of men that ever lived.
However, we did seriously attend,
A little space we let our thoughts ascend,
Experienced our religion and confessed
'T was good for us to be there, be anywhere.
Then to a heap of apples we addressed,
And cleared a five-rail fence with hand on the topmost
rider sine care.
Then our Icarian thoughts returned to ground,
And we went on to heaven the long way round.
What's the railroad to me?
I never go to see
Where it ends.
It fills a few hollows,
And makes banks for the swallows;
[Walden, p. 215; Riv. 303.]
It sets the sand a-flowing,
And blackberries a-growing.'
Aug. 31. TALL AMBROSIA
Among the signs of autumn I perceive
The Roman wormwood (called by learned men
Ambrosia elatior, food for gods,
For by impartial science the humblest weed
Is as well named as is the proudest flower)
Sprinkles its yellow dust over my shoes
As I brush through the now neglected garden.
We trample under foot the food of gods
And spill their nectar in each drop of dew.
My honest shoes, fast friends that never stray
Far from my couch, thus powdered, countrified,
Bearing many a mile the marks of their adventure,
At the post-house disgrace the Gallic gloss
Of those well-dressed ones who no morning dew
Nor Roman wormwood ever have gone through,
Who never walk, but are transported rather,
For what old crime of theirs I do not gather.
The gray blueberry bushes, venerable as oaks, -
why is not their fruit poisonous ? Bilberry called Vac-
cinium corymbosum; some say amtenum, or blue bil-
berry, and Vaccinium disomorphum Mx., black bil-
berry. Its fruit hangs on into September, but loses its
wild and sprightly taste.
Th' ambrosia of the Gods 's a weed on earth,
Their nectar is the morning dew which on-
Ly our shoes taste, for they are simple folks.
1 [Walden, pp. 135, 136; Riv. 192.]
'T is very fit the ambrosia of the gods
Should be a weed on earth, as nectar is
The morning dew which our shoes brush aside;
For the gods are simple folks, and we should pine upon
their humble fare.
The purple flowers of the humble trichostema mingled
with the wormwood, smelling like it; and'the spring-
scented, dandelion-scented primrose, yellow primrose.
The swamp-pink (Azalea viscosa), its now withered pis-
tils standing out.
The odoriferous sassafras, with its delicate green
stem, its three-lobed leaf, tempting the traveller to
bruise it, it sheds so rare a perfume on him, equal to all
the spices of the East. Then its rare-tasting root bark,
like nothing else, which I used to dig. The first navi-
gators freighted their ships with it and deemed it worth
its weight in gold.
The alder-leaved clethra (Clethra alnifolia), sweet-
smelling queen of the swamp; its long white racemes.
We are most apt to remember and cherish the flowers
which appear earliest in the spring. I look with equal
affection on those which are the latest to bloom in the fall.
The choke-berry (Pyrus arbutifolia).
The beautiful white waxen berries of the cornel, either
Cornus alba or paniculata, white-berried or panicled,
beautiful both when full of fruit and when its cymes
are naked; delicate red cymes or stems of berries;
spreading its little fairy fingers to the skies, its little
palms; fairy palms they might be called.
One of the viburnums, Lentago or pyrijolium or
THE WAYS OF COWS
nudum, with its poisonous-looking fruit in cymes, first
greenish-white, then red, then purple, or all at once.
The imp-eyed, red, velvety-looking berry of the
The spotted polygonum (Polygonum Persicaria), seen
in low lands amid the potatoes now, wild prince's-
feather (?), slight flower that does not forget to grace
The late whortleberry dangleberry that ripens
now that other huckleberries and blueberries are shriv-
elled and spoiling, September 1st; dangle down two
or three inches; can rarely find many. They have a
more transparent look, large, blue, long-stemmed,
dangling, fruit of the swamp concealed.
I detect the pennyroyal which my feet have bruised.
Butter-and-eggs still hold out to bloom.
I notice that cows never walk abreast, but in single
file commonly, making a narrow cow-path, or the herd
walks in an irregular and loose wedge. They retain
still the habit of all the deer tribe, acquired when the
earth was all covered with forest, of travelling from
necessity in narrow paths in the woods.
At sundown a herd of cows, returning homeward from
pasture over a sandy knoll, pause to paw the sand and
challenge the representatives of another herd, raising a
cloud of dust between the beholder and the setting sun.
And then the herd boys rush to mingle in the fray and
separate the combatants, two cows with horns inter-
locked, the one pushing the other down the bank.
i Wild holly?
My grandmother called her cow home at night from
the pasture over the hill, by thumping on a mortar out
of which the cow was accustomed to eat salt.
At Nagog I saw a hundred bushels of huckleberries
in one field.
The Roman wormwood, pigweed, a stout, coarse red-
topped (?) weed (Amaranthus hybridus), and spotted
polygonum; these are the lusty growing plants now,
Tall, slender, minute white-flowered weed in gardens,
annual fleabane (Erigeron Canadensis).
One of my neighbors, of whom I borrowed a horse,
cart, and harness to-day, which last was in a singularly
dilapidated condition, considering that he is a wealthy
farmer, did not know but I would make a book about it.
As I was stalking over the surface of this planet in the
dark to-night, I started a plover resting on the ground
and heard him go off with whistling wings.
My friends wonder that I love to walk alone in soli-
tary fields and woods by night. Sometimes in my loneli-
est and wildest midnight walk I hear the sound of the
whistle and the rattle of the cars, where perchance some
of those very friends are being whirled by night over, as
they think, a well-known, safe, and public road. I see
that men do not make or choose their own paths, whether
they are railroads or trackless through the wilds, but
what the powers permit each one enjoys. My solitary
FLOCKS OF BIRDS
course has the same sanction that the Fitchburg Railroad
has. If they have a charter from Massachusetts and -
what is of much more importance from Heaven, to
travel the course and in the fashion they do, I have a
charter, though it be from Heaven alone, to travel the
course I do, to take the necessary lands and pay the
damages. It is by the grace of God in both cases.
Now, about the first of September, you will see flocks
of small birds forming compact and distinct masses, as
if they were not only animated by one spirit but actu-
ally held together by some invisible fluid or film, and
will hear the sound of their wings rippling or fanning
the air as they flow through it, flying, the whole mass,
ricochet like a single bird, or as they flow over the
fence. Their mind must operate faster than man's, in
proportion as their bodies do.
What a generation this is! It travels with some brains
in its hat, with a couple of spare cigars on top of them.
It carries a heart in its breast, covered by a lozenge in
its waistcoat pocket.
John Garfield brought me this morning (September
6th) a young great heron (Ardea Herodias), which he
shot this morning on a pine tree on the North Branch.
It measured four feet, nine inches, from bill to toe and
six feet in alar extent, and belongs to a different race
from myself and Mr. Frost. I am glad to recognize
him for a native of America, why not an American
64 JOURNAL [SEPT.
In the twilight, when you can only see the outlines of
the trees in the horizon, the elm-tops indicate where the
houses are. I have looked afar over fields and even over
distant woods and distinguished the conspicuous grace-
ful, sheaf-like head of an elm which shadowed some
farmhouse. From the northwest (?) part of Sudbury
you can see an elm on the Boston road, on the hilltop in
the horizon in Wayland, five or six miles distant. The
elm is a tree which can be distinguished farther off per-
haps than any other. The wheelwright still makes his
hubs of it, his spokes of white oak, his fellies of yellow
oak, which does not crack on the corners. In England,
't is said, they use the ash for fellies.
There is a little grove in a swampy place in Conantum
where some rare things grow, several bass trees, two
kinds of ash, sassafras, maidenhair fern, the white-
berried plant (ivory?), etc., etc., and the sweet vibur-
num (?) in the hedge near by.
This will be called the wet year of 1850. The river
is as high now, September 9th, as in the spring, and
hence the prospects and the reflections seen from the
village are something novel.
Roman wormwood, pigweed, amaranth, polygonum,
and one or two coarse kinds of grass reign now in the
Though the potatoes have man with all his imple-
ments on their side, these rowdy and rampant weeds
completely bury them, between the last hoeing and
the digging. The potatoes hardly succeed with the
utmost care: these weeds only ask to be let alone a little
1850] UNCLE CHARLES DUNBAR
while. I judge that they have not got the rot. I sym-
pathize with all this luxuriant growth of weeds. Such
is the year. The weeds grow as if in sport and frolic.
You might say green as green-briar.
I do not know whether the practice of putting indigo-
weed about horses' tackling to keep off flies is well
founded, but I hope it is, for I have been pleased to no-
tice that wherever I have occasion to tie a horse I am
sure to find indigo-weed not far off, and therefore this,
which is so universally dispersed, would be the fittest
weed for this purpose.
The thistle is now in bloom, which every child is eager
to clutch once, just a child's handful.
The prunella, self-heal, small purplish-flowered
plant of low grounds.
Charles I grew up to be a remarkably eccentric man.
He was of large frame, athletic, and celebrated for his
feats of strength. His lungs were proportionally strong.
There was a man who heard him named once, and
asked if it was the same Charles Dunbar whom he
remembered when he was a little boy walking on the
coast of Maine. A man came down to the shore and
hailed a vessel that was sailing by. He should never
forget that man's name.
It was well grassed, and delicate flowers grew in the
middle of the road.
I [Charles Dunbar was Thoreau's uncle. See Sanborn, pp. 21-23,
92, 93; also Journal, vol. iv, Jan. 1, 1853, and vol. viii, Apr. 3, 1856.]
I saw a delicate flower had grown up two feet
Between the horses' path and the wheel-track,
Which Dakin's and Maynard's wagons had
Passed over many a time.
An inch more to right or left had sealed its fate,
Or an inch higher. And yet it lived and flourished
As much as if it had a thousand acres
Of untrodden space around it, and never
Knew the danger it incurred.
It did not borrow trouble nor invite an
Evil fate by apprehending it.'
For though the distant market-wagon
Every other day inevitably rolled
This way, it just as inevitably rolled
In those ruts. And the same
Charioteer who steered the flower
Upward guided the horse and cart aside from it.
There were other flowers which you would say
Incurred less danger, grew more out of the way,
Which no cart rattled near, no walker daily passed,
But at length one rambling deviously -
For no rut restrained plucked them,
And then it appeared that they stood
Directly in his way, though he had come
From farther than the market-wagon.
And then it appeared that this brave flower T'ich
grew between the wheel and horse did actually stand
farther out of the way than that which stood in the wide
prairie where the man of science plucked it.
1 [Channing, p. 293 (as prose).]
A BEAUTIFUL HEIFER
To-day I climbed a handsome rounded hill
Covered with hickory trees, wishing to see
The country from its top, for low hills
Show unexpected prospects. I looked
Many miles over a woody lowland
Toward Marlborough, Framingham, and Sudbury;
And as I sat amid the hickory trees
And the young sumachs, enjoying the prospect, a
neat herd of cows approached, of unusually fair pro-
portions and smooth, clean skins, evidently petted by
their owner, who must have carefully selected them.
One more confiding heifer, the fairest of the herd, did.
by degrees approach as if to take some morsel from
our hands, while our hearts leaped to our mouths with
expectation and delight. She by degrees drew near
with her fair limbs progressive, making pretense of
browsing; nearer and nearer, till there was wafted
toward us the bovine fragrance, cream of all the
dairies that ever were or will be, and then she raised
her gentle muzzle toward us, and snuffed an honest
recognition within hand's reach. I saw 't was possible
for his herd to inspire with love the herdsman. She
was as delicately featured as a hind. Her hide was
mingled white and fawn-color, and on her muzzle's
tip there was a white spot not bigger than a daisy, and
on her side toward me the map of Asia plain to see.
Farewell, dear heifer! Though thou forgettest me,
my prayer to heaven shall be that thou may'st not for-
get thyself. There was a whole bucolic in her snuff.
I saw her name was Sumach. And by the kindred
spots I knew her mother, more sedate and matronly,
with full-grown bag; and on her sides was Asia, great
and small, the plains of Tartary, even to the pole,
while on her daughter it was Asia Minor. She not dis-
posed to wanton with the herdsman.
And as I walked, she followed me, and took an ap-
ple from my hand, and seemed to care more for the
hand than apple. So innocent a face as I have rarely
seen on any creature, and I have looked in face of many
heifers. And as she took the apple from my hand, I
caught the apple of her eye. She smelled as sweet as
the clethra blossom. There was no sinister expression.
And for horns, though she had them, they were so well
disposed in the right place, bent neither up nor down,
I do not now remember she had any. No horn was held
Sept. 11. Wednesday. The river higher than I ever
knew it at this season, as high as in the spring.
Yesterday, September 14, walked to White Pond in
Stow, on the Marlborough road, having passed one pond
called sometimes Pratt's Pond, sometimes Bottomless
Pond, in Sudbury. Saw afterward another pond beyond
Willis's also called Bottomless Pond, in a thick swamp.
To name two ponds bottomless when both of them
have a bottom! Verily men choose darkness rather
The farmers are now cutting topping heir
corn, gathering their early fruit, raking their cran-
berries, digging their potatoes, etc.
1 [Channing, pp. 76, 77; Sanborn, pp. 258, 259.]
2 [See Walden, p. 315; Riv. 441.]
1850] WATER THE ONLY DRINK
Everything has its use, and man seeks sedulously for
the best article for each use. The watchmaker finds the
oil of the porpoise's jaw the best for oiling his watches.
Man has a million eyes, and the race knows infinitely
more than the individual. Consent to be wise through
. Autumnal mornings, when the feet of countless spar-
rows are heard like rain-drops on the roof by the boy
who sleeps in the garret.
Villages with a single long street lined with trees, so
straight and wide that you can see a chicken run across
it a mile off.
Sept. 19. The gerardia, yellow trumpet-like flower.
Veiny-leaved hawkweed (leaves handsome, radical
excepting one or two; know them well) (Hieracium
venosum), flower like a dandelion. Canada snapdragon,
small pea-like blue flower in the wood-paths, (Antirrhi-
num Canadense). Pine-weed, thickly branched low
weed with red seed-vessels, in wood-paths and fields,
(Sarothra gentianoides). Cucumber-root (Medeola).
Tree-primrose. Red-stemmed cornel. The very minute
flower which grows now in the middle of the Marl-
I am glad to have drunk water so long, as I prefer the
natural sky to an opium-eater's heaven, would keep
sober always, and lead a sane life not indebted to stimu-
lants. Whatever my practice may be, I believe that it
is the only drink for a wise man, and only the foolish
habitually use any other. Think of dashing the hopes
of a morning with a cup of coffee, or of an evening with
a dish of tea! Wine is not a noble liquor, except when
it is confined to the pores of the grape. Even music is
wont to be intoxicating. Such apparently slight causes
destroyed Greece and Rome, and will destroy England
I have seen where the rain dripped from the trees on
a sand-bank on the Marlborough road, that each little
pebble which had protected the sand made the summit
of a sort of basaltic column of sand, a phenomenon
which looked as if it might be repeated on a larger scale
The goldenrods and asters impress me not like indi-
viduals but great families covering a thousand hills
and having a season to themselves.
The indigo-weed turns black when dry, and I have
been interested to find in each of its humble seed-ves-
sels a worm.
The Deep Cut is sometimes excited to productiveness
by a rain in midsummer. It impresses me somewhat
as if it were a cave, with all its stalactites turned wrong
side outward. Workers in bronze should come here for
Those were carrots which I saw naturalized in
Wheeler's field. It was four or five years since he
To-day I saw a sunflower in the woods.
It is pleasant to see the Viola pedata blossoming again
1 [Walden, p. 240; Riv. 338.]
now, in September, with a beauty somewhat serener than
that of these yellow flowers.
The trees on the bank of the river have white furrows
worn about them, marking the height of the freshets,
at what levels the water has stood.
Water is so much more fine and sensitive an element
than earth. A single boatman passing up or down
unavoidably shakes the whole of a wide river, and dis-
turbs its every reflection. The air is an element which
our voices shake still further than our oars the water.
The red maples on the river, standing far in the wa-
ter when the banks are overflown and touched by the
earliest frosts, are memorable features in the scenery of
the stream at this season.
Now you can scent the ripe grapes far off on the banks
as you row along. Their fragrance is finer than their
My companion said he would drink when the boat got
under the bridge, because the water would be cooler in
the shade, though the stream quickly passes through the
piers from shade to sun again. It is something beauti-
ful, the act of drinking, the stooping to imbibe some of
this widespread element, in obedience to instinct, without
whim. We do not so simply drink in other influences.
It is pleasant to have been to a place by the way a
The forms of trees and groves change with every
stroke of the oar.
It seems hardly worth the while to risk the dangers of
the sea between Leghorn and New York for the sake
of a cargo of juniper berries and bitter almonds.
ON THE RIVER
Oh, if I could be intoxicated on air and water! on
hope and memory! and always see the maples standing
red in the midst of the waters on the meadow!
Those have met with losses, who have lost their chil-
dren. I saw the widow this morning whose son was
That I might never be blind to the beauty of the land-
scape! To hear music without any vibrating cord!
A family in which there was singing in the morning.
To hear a neighbor singing! All other speech sounds
thereafter like profanity. A man cannot sing falsehood
or cowardice; he must sing truth and heroism to attune
his voice to some instrument. It would be noblest to
sing with the wind. I have seen a man making himself
a viol, patiently and fondly paring the thin wood and
shaping it, and when I considered the end of the work
he was ennobled in my eyes. He was building himself a
ship in which to sail to new worlds. I am much indebted
to my neighbor who will now and then in the intervals
of his work draw forth a few strains from his accordion.
Though he is but a learner, I find when his strains cease
that I have been elevated.
The question is not whether you drink, but what
Plucked a wild rose the 9th of October on Fair Haven
Butter-and-eggs, which blossomed several months
ago, still freshly [in] bloom (October llth).
He knew what shrubs were best for withes.
1 [Walden, p. 240; Riv. 338.)
1850] THE CANADIAN EXCURSION
This is a remarkable year. Huckleberries are still
quite abundant and fresh on Conantum. There have
been more berries than pickers or even worms. (Octo-
I am always exhilarated, as were the early voyagers,
by the sight of sassafras (Laurus Sassafras). The green
leaves bruised have the fragrance of lemons and a thou-
sand spices. To the same order belong cinnamon,
Hickory is said to be an Indian name. (Nuttall's
continuation of Michaux.)
The seed vessel of the sweet-briar is a very beautiful
glossy elliptical fruit. What with the fragrance of its
leaves, its blossom, and its fruit, it is thrice crowned.
I observed to-day (October 17th) the small blueberry
bushes by the path-side, now blood-red, full of white
blossoms as in the spring, the blossoms of spring con-
trasting strangely with the leaves of autumn. The for-
mer seemed to have expanded from sympathy with the
maturity of the leaves.
Walter Colton in his California" 1 says, "Age is no
certain evidence of merit, since folly runs to seed as fast
The imagination never forgives an insult.
Left Concord, Wednesday morning, September 25th,
1850, for Quebec. Fare $7.00 to and fro. Obliged to
leave Montreal on return as soon as Friday, October
4th. The country was new to me beyond Fitchburg.
I [Three Years in California, 1850.1
In Ashburnham and afterwards I noticed the wood-
[Eighty-four pages missing, doubtless the Canada
However mean your life is, meet it and live; do not
shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you
are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-
finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life,
poor as it is. You may perchance have some pleasant,
thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The set-
ting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse
as brightly as from the rich man's house. The snow
melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not
see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and
have as cheering thoughts as anywhere, and, indeed, the
town's poor seem to live the most independent lives of
any. They are simply great enough to receive without
misgiving. Cultivate poverty like sage, like a garden
herb. Do not trouble yourself to get new things, whether
clothes or friends. That is dissipation. Turn the old;
return to them. Things do not change; we change. If
I were confined to a corner in a garret all my days, like
a spider, the world would be just as large to me while I
had my thoughts.2
In all my travels I never came to the abode of the
I live in the angle of a leaden wall, into whose alloy
was poured a little bell-metal. Sometimes in the repose
of my mid-day there-reaches my ears a confused tintin-
' [Excursions, p. 3; Riv. 3.] 2 [Walden, p. 361; Riv. 505, 506.]
nabulum from without. It is the noise of my contem-
That the brilliant leaves of autumn are not withered
ones is proved by the fact that they wilt when gathered
as soon as the green.
But now, October 31st, they are all withered. This
has been the most perfect afternoon in the year. The
air quite warm enough, perfectly still and dry and clear,
and not a cloud in the sky. Scarcely the song of a cricket
is heard to disturb the stillness. When they ceased their
song I do not know. I wonder that the impetus which
our hearing had got did not hurry us into deafness over
a precipitous silence. There must have been a thick web
of cobwebs on the grass this morning, promising this
fair day, for I see them still through the afternoon,
covering not only the grass but the bushes and the trees.
They are stretched across the unfrequented roads from
weed to weed, and broken by the legs of the horses.
I thought to-day that it would be pleasing to study
the dead and withered plants, the ghosts of plants,
which now remain in the fields, for they fill almost as
large a space to the eye as the green have done. They
live not in memory only, but to the fancy and imagina-
As we were passing through Ashburnham, by a new
white house which stood at some distance in a field, one
passenger exclaimed so that all the passengers could
hear him, "There, there's not so good a house as that
in all Canada." And I did not much wonder at his
remark. There is a neatness as well as thrift and elastic
[Walden, p. 362; Riv. 507.]
comfort, a certain flexible easiness of circumstance when
not rich, about a New England house which the Cana-
dian houses do not suggest. Though of stone, they were
no better constructed than a stone barn would be with
us. The only building on which money and taste are
expended is the church.' At Beauport we examined
a magnificent cathedral, not quite completed, where I
do not remember that there were any but the meanest
houses in sight around it.
Our Indian summer, I am tempted to say, is the finest
season of the year. Here has been such a day as I think
Italy never sees.
Though it has been so warm to-day, I found some of
the morning's frost still remaining under the north side
of a wood, to my astonishment.
Why was this beautiful day made, and no man to
improve it ? We went through Seven-Star (?) Lane to
Looking through a stately pine grove, I saw the
western sun falling in golden streams through its aisles.
Its west side, opposite to me, was all lit up with golden
light; but what was I to it? Such sights remind me of
houses which we never inhabit, that commonly I am
not at home in the world. I see somewhat fairer than
I enjoy or possess.
A fair afternoon, a celestial afternoon, cannot occur
but we mar our pleasure by reproaching ourselves that
we do not make all our days beautiful. The thought of
what I am, of my pitiful conduct, deters me from receiv-
ing what joy I might from the glorious days that visit me.
[Excursions, p. 100; Riv. 124.]
A FROG IN THE MILK
After the era of youth is passed, the knowledge of our-
selves is an alloy that spoils our satisfactions.
I am wont to think that I could spend my days con-
tentedly in any retired country house that I see; for
I see it to advantage now and without incumbrance; I
have not yet imported my humdrum thoughts, my pro-
saic habits, into it to mar the landscape. What is this
beauty in the landscape but a certain fertility in me? I
look in vain to see it realized but in my own life. If
I could wholly cease to be ashamed of myself, I think
that all my days would be fair.
When I asked at the principal bookstore in Montreal
to see such books as were published there, the answer
was that none were published there but those of a sta-
tistical character and the like, that their books came
from the States.'
[Two thirds of a page missing]
As once he was riding past Jennie Dugan's, was
invited by her boys to look into their mother's spring-
house. He looked in. It was a delectable place to keep
butter and milk cool and sweet in dog-days, but there
was a leopard frog swimming in the milk, and another
sitting on the edge of the pan.
[Half a page missing.]
Thou art a personality so vast and universal that I
have never seen one of thy features. I am suddenly very
near to another land than can be bought and sold;
this is not Charles Miles's swamp. This is a far, far-
1 [Excursions, p. 15; Riv. 18.]
away field on the confines of the actual Concord, where
nature is partially present. These farms I have myself
surveyed; these lines I have run; these bounds I have
set up; they have no chemistry to fix them; they fade
from the surface of the glass (the picture); this light
is too strong for them.
[Four and two thirds pages missing.]
My dear, my dewy sister, let thy rain descend on me.
I not only love thee, but I love the best of thee; that is
to love thee rarely. I do not love thee every day. Com-
monly I love those who are less than thou. I love thee
only on great days. Thy dewy words feed me like the
manna of the morning. I am as much thy sister as thy
brother. Thou art as much my brother as my sister.
It is a portion of thee and a portion of me which are of
kin. Thou dost not have to woo me. I do not have
to woo thee. O my sister! O Diana, thy tracks are on
the eastern hills. Thou surely passedst that way. I, the
hunter, saw them in the morning dew. My eyes are
the hounds that pursue thee. Ah, my friend, what if I
do not answer thee? I hear thee. Thou canst speak;
I cannot. I hear and forget to answer. I am occupied
with hearing. I awoke and thought of thee; thou wast
present to my mind. How camest thou there ? Was I
not present to thee likewise ? I
The oystermen had anchored their boat near the shore
without regard to the state of the tide, and when we
came to it to set sail, just after noon, we found that
it was aground. Seeing that they were preparing to
S[Channing, pp. 70, 71; Sanborn, pp. 259, 260.]
1850] AGROUND AT PATCHOGUE
push it off, I was about to take off my shoes and stock-
ings in order to wade to it first, but a Dutch sailor with
a singular bullfrog or trilobite expression of the eyes,
whose eyes were like frog ponds in the broad platter
of his cheeks and gleamed like a pool covered with
frog-spittle, immediately offered me the use of his back.
So mounting, with my legs under his arms, and hug-
ging him like one of [the] family, he set me aboard of
They then leaned their hardest against the stern,
bracing their feet against the sandy bottom in two feet
of water, the Dutchman with his broad back among
them. In the most Dutch-like and easy way they
applied themselves to this labor, while the skipper
tried to raise the bows, never jerking or hustling but
silently exerting what vigor was inherent in them, doing,
no doubt, their utmost endeavor, while I pushed with a
spike pole; but it was all in vain. It was decided to be
unsuccessful; we did not disturb its bed by a grain of
sand. "Well, what now ?" said I. "How long have we
got to wait?" "Till the tide rises," said the captain.
But no man knew of the tide, how it was. So I went in
to bathe, looking out for sharks and chasing crabs, and
the Dutchman waded out among the mussels to spear
a crab. The skipper stuck a clamshell into the sand
at the water's edge to discover if it was rising, and
the sailors, the Dutchman and the other, having
got more drink at Oakes's, stretched themselves on the
seaweed close to the water's edge [and] went to sleep.
After an hour or more we could discover no change in
the shell even by a hair's breadth, from which we learned
that it was about the turn of the tide and we must wait
some hours longer.1
I once went in search of the relics of a human body
- a week after a wreck which had been cast up the
day before on to the beach, though the sharks had
stripped off the flesh. I got the direction from a light-
house. I should find it a mile or two distant over the
sand, a dozen rods from the water, by a stick which was
stuck up covered with a cloth. Pursuing the direction
pointed out, I expected that I should have to look very
narrowly at the sand to find so small an object, but
so completely smooth and bare was the beach half
a mile wide of sand and so magnifying the mirage
toward the sea that when I was half a mile distant the in-
significant stick or sliver which marked the spot looked
like a broken mast in the sand. As if there was no other
object, this trifling sliver had puffed itself up to the vis-
ion to fill the void; and there lay the relics in a certain
state, rendered perfectly inoffensive to both bodily and
spiritual eye by the surrounding scenery, -a slight in-
equality in the sweep of the shore. Alone with the sea
and the beach, attending to the sea, whose hollow roar
seemed addressed to the ears of the departed, articu-
late speech to them. It was as conspicuous on that sandy
plain as if a generation had labored to pile up a cairn
there. Where there were so few objects, the least was ob-
vious as a mausoleum. It reigned over the shore. That
dead body possessed the shore as no living one could. It
showed a title to the sands which no living ruler could.2
[See pp. 49-51.]
2 [Cape Cod, pp. 107, 108; Riv. 126,127. See also pp. 49-51 of this
My father was commissary at Fort Independence in
the last war. He says that the baker whom he engaged
returned eighteen ounces of bread for sixteen of flour,
arid was glad of the job on those terms.
In a pleasant spring morning all men's sins are for-
given. You may have known your neighbor yesterday
for a drunkard and a thief, and merely pitied or despised
him, and despaired of the world; but the sun shines
bright and warm this first spring morning, and you meet
him quietly, serenely at any work, and see how even
his exhausted, debauched veins and nerves expand
with still joy and bless the new day, feel the spring
influence with the innocence 1 [Two thirds of a page
There is a good echo from that wood to one stand-
ing on the side of Fair Haven. It was particularly good
to-day. The woodland lungs seemed particularly
sound to-day; they echoed your shout with a fuller and
rounder voice than it was given in, seeming to mouth
it. It was,uttered with a sort of sweeping intonation
half round a vast circle, ore rotundo, by a broaddell
among the tree-tops passing it round to the entrance of
all the aisles of the wood. You had to choose the right
key or pitch, else the woods would not echo it with
any spirit, and so with eloquence. Of what significance
is any sound if Nature does not echo it ? It does not
prevail. -It dies away as soon as uttered. I wonder that
wild men have not made more of echoes, or that we do
[Walden, pp. 346, 347; Riv. 484, 485.]
not hear that they have made more. It would be a
pleasant, a soothing and cheerful mission to go about
the country in search of them, articulating, speak-
ing, vocal, oracular, resounding, sonorous, hollow, pro-
phetic places; places wherein to found an oracle, sites
for oracles, sacred ears of Nature.
I used to strike with a paddle on the side of my boat
on Walden Pond, filling the surrounding woods with
circling and dilating sound, awaking the woods, "stir-
ring them up," as a keeper of a menagerie his lions and
tigers, a growl from all. All melody is a sweet echo,
as it were coincident with [the] movement of our organs.
We wake the echo of the place we are in, its slumbering
I should think that savages would have made a god
I will call that Echo Wood.
Crystal Water for White Pond.
There was a sawmill once on Nut Meadow Brook,
near Jennie's Road. These little brooks have their
history. They once turned sawmills. They even used
their influence to destroy the primitive [forests] which
grew on their banks, and now, for their reward, the sun
is let in to dry them up and narrow their channels.
Their crime rebounds against themselves. You still
find the traces of ancient dams where the simple brooks
were taught to use their influence to destroy the primi-
tive forests on their borders, and now for penalty they
flow in shrunken channels, with repentant and plaintive
tinkling through the wood, being by an evil spirit turned
against their neighbor forests.
What does education often do ? It makes a straight-
cut ditch of a free, meandering brook.
You must walk like a camel, which is said to be the
only beast which ruminates when it walks.
The actual life of men is not without a dramatic
interest to the thinker. It is not in all its respects prosaic.
Seventy thousand pilgrims proceed annually to Mecca
from the various nations of Islam.
I was one evening passing a retired farmhouse which
had a smooth green plat before it, just after sundown,
when I saw a hen turkey which had gone to roost on the
front fence with her wings outspread over her young
now pretty well advanced, who were roosting on the
next rail a foot or two below her. It completed a picture
of rural repose and happiness such as I had not seen
for a long time. A particularly neat and quiet place,
where the very ground was swept around the wood-
pile. The neighboring fence of roots, agreeable forms
for the traveller to study, like the bones of marine mon-
sters and the horns of mastodons or megatheriums.
You might say of a philosopher that he was in this
world as a spectator.
A squaw came to our door to-day with two pappooses,
and said, "Me want a pie." Theirs is not common
begging. You are merely the rich Indian who shares
his goods with the poor. They merely offer you an
opportunity to be generous and hospitable.
Equally simple was the observation which an Indian
made at Mr. Hoar's door the other day, who went
there to sell his baskets. "No, we don't want any,"
said the one who went to the door. "What! do you
mean to starve us ?" asked the Indian in astonishment,
as he was going out [sic] the gate. The Indian seems to
have said: I too will do like the white man; I will go
into business. He sees his white neighbors well off
around him, and he thinks that if he only enters on the
profession of basket-making, riches will flow in unto
him as a matter of course; just as the lawyer weaves
arguments, and by some magical means wealth and
standing follow. He thinks that when he has made the
baskets he has done his part, now it is yours to buy
them. He has not discovered that it is necessary for
him to make it worth your while to buy them, or make
some which it will be worth your while to buy. With
great simplicity he says to himself: I too will be a
man of business; I will go into trade. It is n't enough
simply to make baskets. You have got to sell them.1
I have an uncle who once, just as he stepped on to the
dock at New York from a steamboat, saw some strange
birds in the water and called to [a] Gothamite to know
what they were. Just then his hat blew off into the
dock, and the man answered by saying, Mister, your
hat is off," whereupon my uncle, straightening himself
up, asked again with vehemence, "Blast you, sir, I
want to know what those birds are." By the time that he
had got this information, a sailor had recovered his hat.
I [Walden, pp. 20, 21; Riv. 32.]
1850] NATURE IN NOVEMBER
Nov. 8. The stillness of the woods and fields is re-
markable at this season of the year. There is not even
the creak of a cricket to be heard. Of myriads of dry
shrub oak leaves, not one rustles. Your own breath
can rustle them, yet the breath of heaven does not
suffice to. The trees have the aspect of waiting for win-
ter. The autumnal leaves have lost their color; they
are now truly sere, dead, and the woods wear a sombre
color. Summer and harvest are over. The hickories,
birches, chestnuts, no less than the maples, have lost
their leaves. The sprouts, which had shot up so vigor-
ously to repair the damage which the choppers had done,
have stopped short for the winter. Everything stands
silent and expectant. If I listen, I hear only the note
of a chickadee, our most common and I may say
native bird, most identified with our forests, or per-
chance the scream of a jay, or perchance from the
solemn depths of these woods I hear tolling far away
the knell of one departed. Thought rushes in to fill the
vacuum. As you walk, however, the partridge still bursts
away. The silent, dry, almost leafless, certainly fruit-
less woods. You wonder what cheer that bird can find
in them. The partridge .bursts away from the foot of
a shrub oak like its own dry fruit, immortal bird! This
sound still startles us. Dry goldenrods, now turned
gray and white, lint our clothes as we walk. And the
drooping, downy seed-vessels of the epilobium remind
us of the summer. Perchance you will meet with a few
solitary asters in the dry fields, with a little color left.
The sumach is stripped of everything but its cone of red
This is a peculiar season, peculiar for its stillness.
The crickets have ceased their song. The few birds
are well-nigh silent. The tinted and gay leaves are now
sere and dead, and the woods wear a sombre aspect.
A carpet of snow under the pines and shrub oaks will
make it look more cheerful. Very few plants have now
their spring. But thoughts still spring in man's brain.
There are no flowers nor berries to speak of. The
grass begins to die at top. In the morning it is stiff with
frost. Ice has been discovered in somebody's tub very
early this morn, of the thickness of a dollar. The flies
are betwixt life and death. The wasps come into the
houses and settle on the walls and windows. All insects
go into crevices. The fly is entangled in a web and
struggles vainly to escape, but there is no spider to secure
him; the corner of the pane is a deserted camp. When
I lived in the woods the wasps came by thousands to my
lodge in November,, as to winter quarters, and settled
on my windows and on the walls over my head, some-
times deterring visitors from entering. Each morning,
when they were numbed with cold, I swept some of
them out. But I did not trouble myself to get rid of them.
They never molested me, though they bedded with me,
and they gradually disappeared into what crevices I do
not know, 'avoiding winter.1 I saw a squash-bug go
slowly behind a clapboard to avoid winter. As some of
these melon seeds come up in the garden again in the
spring, so some of these squash-bugs come forth. The
flies are for a long time in a somnambulic state. They
[Walden, p. 265 (Riv. 372, 373), where October is the month